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Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time
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by Jay Seaver

"Romance? Mystery? Who can say?"
4 stars

The hook for "Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time" hints at something more broadly paranoid or sinister, and while that would have been an interesting way to go, writer/director Lili Horv√°t doesn't necessarily see the need to exaggerate what's going on here. It's not the noir-ish thriller it initially looks like, but is in some ways more engaging for it.

Márta Vizy (Natasa Stork) was born in Hungary but has spent most of her adult life in the United States, becoming a top neurosurgeon over the past eighteen or twenty years. A month ago, he clicked with János Drexler at a conference like she had never connected with anyone before, not even realizing he was also from Buda-Pest at first. They made a date to meet on the Pest side of the Liberty bridge a month later, but when Márta arrives, he's not there; she seeks him out, but János (Viktor Bodó) says they've never met. Literally stunned, Márta decides not to return to New Jersey, but instead takes a job at her old teaching hospital and finds an apartment - both of them well below her status - to try and figure out what's going on.

It's hard to blame Márta for being suspicious when someone doesn't remember her - she's striking on top of being at the top of her field to the point where everyone asks her why she would come back - and what makes the film work is that she's also smart enough and familiar enough with how brains work to interrogate this idea. Conversations with a therapist (Péter Tóth) that might otherwise be a framing device or meant to move things along do something else: They get both Márta and the audience thinking in a certain way rather than offering answers. Horvát never offers any sort of conspiracy or hints that János is some sort of supervillain, so instead we've got to figure out what's going on without easy genre solutions.

It's an intriguingly interconnected mess. One thing that's striking, early on, is how M√°rta defaults to English before Hungarian and is taken for a foreigner, and though this part of her identity is never addressed directly, one wonders how much it is motivating her actions. Did she read more into J√°nos's words because she never truly felt at home in America and wanted an excuse to come back? Does she choose a crappy apartment because it has an obstructed view of her favorite spot rather than a far nicer one despite being able to afford the latter? The way her old professors and friends question her desire to return has some logic to it, especially when one takes the more rampant sexism of the place into account. Preparations often seems like it's a movie about a woman being gaslit because men are intimidated by her being so formidable, but I wonder to what extent the latter is a screen for the first, a way to tell that story without it being over-sentimental, and to what extent they're the two opposing influences M√°rta must wrestle with.

Either way, it's a real pleasure to watch Natasa Stork work the contrast; she and Horvát never seem to use Márta's confidence as a cover for her uncertainty, or as things that easily fit into different categories of her life. Her certainty in her own capability lets her charge headlong into areas where she is otherwise confused in some spots and tempers that impulse in others, and it's tremendously fun to watch her be so self-possessed in her probing in spots where other characters often seem helpless. She's got nice chemistry with Viktor Bodó in the moments when the story lets Márta and János get close, and Bodó himself has the sort of charisma that can override the way János can often seem like the sort of puffed-up fellow who's not really in Márta's league on more than just her say-so, when the need arises. It's useful (and fun) to have Benett Vilmányi there as a contrast - Horvát is well-aware that his med student eventually pursuing Márta is a flip on convention, and they make sure that there's a little bit of him knowing it and maybe thinking she should be grateful under his mostly-earnest admiration.

"Preparations" doesn't quite make it all the way through without stopping to hash things out, but the filmmakers are good enough at doing so in a way that still lets the audience play with it on their own and plays up that these are smart people who like to figure things out. It exists in an intriguing place between a mystery and a conventional romance, and makes it work without abandoning either.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=34065&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/31/21 20:17:48
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Directed by
  Lili HorvŠt

Written by
  Lili HorvŠt

  Natasa Stork
  Viktor Bodů
  Benett VilmŠnyi

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