Review by Sean Boelman
Lili Horvát’s film Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time is just about as ambiguous and cumbersome as its bafflingly long title. Yet despite some narrative inconsistencies, strong character development and a hypnotic style allow this to be an interesting, if somewhat unfulfilling drama.
The film follows a doctor who upends after she falls in love with a man, only for him to claim that they have never met before when they reunite. For better or worse, it’s not a typical romance, but it does struggle to nail down its tone early on. Hints of psychological thriller shine though at multiple moments but are never present enough to build much suspense.
This is one of those dramas that meanders in a way in which it would be easy to say nothing happens, but there really are a lot of events that happen. The issue is that Horvát’s script struggles to tie together all of these elements together into something consistently compelling, the end result ultimately feeling a bit random.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the film is that it fails to adequately explore the psychological aspect of the story. For much of the first act, the film tries to position itself as a mystery, but this feels unnecessary. The script is much more interesting when the character is struggling to cope with her world than when she is questioning her sanity.
That said, the film is interesting as a character study of a woman whose world is collapsing around her. Unlike other films about romantic obsession, the film’s unsettling feeling comes not from the anticipation of not knowing what is coming next, but the anxiety of knowing where this self-destructive behavior is heading.
This film is very much a showcase for lead actress Natasa Stork, and she does an excellent job. It’s a dialogue-heavy film, and since many of the scenes feel so mundane, Stork is left to find the emotion implicit in the script. She gives a performance that is subdued yet haunting, probably the main reason that the film is so absorbing.
The film’s biggest success is undeniably on a visual level, as Róbert Maly’s quietly gorgeous cinematography draws the viewer into the mind of the protagonist. It’s not a particularly extravagant film, but the style gives it a somewhat clinical feel, matching the disillusionment of the protagonist.
Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time definitely gets points for being something different, but it’s one-note narrative will prevent it from connecting with most audiences. It’s unlikely to be a major player as Hungary’s submission for Best International Feature.
Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time streams in virtual cinemas beginning January 22. Tickets can be purchased here.