The Thin Line between Reality and Imagination

Preparations to be Together For an Unknown Period of Time (Felkészülés meghatározatlan ideig tartó együttlétre, 2020) is Hungarian director Lili Horvát’s second feature, and an intimate study of a person’s mind. Visually stunning, the film focuses on love, loneliness, and obsession – to which Horvat skillfully brings a touch of mystery and suspense that makes it fresh and surprising. 

Marta (Natasa Stork) is a successful 40-year-old neurosurgeon based in New Jersey. She is Hungarian but hasn’t been in her native country for years. At a conference, she meets Budapest doctor Janos Drexler (Victor Bodo). She instantly develops feelings for him and decides to change everything: she quits her job and flies to Hungary to meet the man on the Liberty Bridge. They both set the meeting at a certain time, and to make it more romantic, they don’t exchange phone numbers. When Marta arrives, Janos is not there and later, when she finds him, he denies ever meeting her. Marta decides to stay in Budapest, finding a new job and renting a place with a view on the bridge. She hopes to get closer to Janos but also to find out if the events really happened or she made it up. Plenty of close-ups show her struggle to understand the truth about herself.

Contrary to other romantic films about life-changing encounters (Before Sunrise by Richard Linklater, Innocent Sorcerers by Andrzej Wajda), we don’t see the couple meet on screen, which is further evidence to question Marta’s version. In Horvat’s story, the border of what is real and what didn’t happen becomes blurred, which strengthens the suspense.  

Marta makes a list of things she has: one ex-boyfriend, two close friends, no children, one house. Should love also be on that list? Horvat’s story is about loneliness and a promise to fill the void that can become an obsession. It also considers the position of women in Hungarian society. Marta has to fight and prove to everyone that she is a professional. She wants to make her own choices and not be dependent on others. Her behavior is often questioned or misunderstood, for the sole reason that she’s a woman. 

Something that makes Horvát’s film distinctive are the visuals by Róbert Maly, whose compositions are sometimes reminiscent of Edward Hopper – full of tension, waiting for the unknown. Much like a figure in Hopper’s paintings, Marta is seen spending time alone in the flat, looking at her window, and maybe thinking of what will happen next. She also observes Janos’s window to fulfill her fascination and get to know him better. Preparations to be Together For an Unknown Period of Time is about lives inside empty apartments and the mysteries of a character’s mind. Intimate, slow and filmed with attention to details, the film considers the thin border between reality and dreams. In contrast to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, by Michel Gondry, where the main character wants his memories of a past relationship deleted, Horvát’s film is about the desire to feel and remember more, subtly yearning for love. 

Maria Dybcio
Edited by Amber Wilkinson