An Absorbing Psychological Drama

Lili Horvat’s Hungarian-language feature film, Preparations To Be Together For An Unknown Period Of Time, is weighed down by a clunky title, but is blessed with a magnetic story line.

An absorbing psychological drama teetering between reality and delusion, it opens digitally at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto on January 22 and in the rest of Canada on January 29.

Marta Vizy (Natasa Stork), a 40-year-old neurosurgeon, is flying back home to Hungary after a long sojourn in the United States. Having fallen in love with a Hungarian physician she briefly met at a medical conference in New Jersey, she has arranged a rendez-vous with him in central Budapest.

Although she’s an intelligent and serious person, she has left everything behind to meet a total stranger. It seems like a rash and impulsive decision, but she’s confident in her judgment. As far as she’s concerned, he’s Mr. Right.

Much to her dismay, Janos Drexler (Viktor Bodo), her imagined lover, fails to appear at the appointed time. She spots a man who resembles him, but he claims to be someone else. So profound is her disappointment that she faints on the sidewalk.

Determined to find him, she rents a flat, secures a job in a hospital and consults a therapist to sort out her feelings. In her sessions with him, she asks herself whether she has lost her mind or dreamed the whole thing up.

Natasa Stork

Viewers cannot be certain of what is real and what is a figment of her imagination. Horvat conjures up this stark and unsettling mood with ease, and Stork adds heft to it by turning in an uncommonly fine performance. Ice cold, tightly wound and living a monastic life in a spare flat, she is a distant and remote figure, a smile rarely creasing her face.

Her colleagues are resentful of Marta, but recognize her brilliance as a surgeon.

When the man of her dreams suddenly appears, she apologizes for having confused him with Drexler. But is she really mistaken? Could he be Drexler?

They bump into each other again at a concert, but exchange no words. In the meantime, Alex (Benett Vilmany), a fourth year medical student and the son of one of her patients, pursues Marta ardently.

In the subsequent scenes, Marta and Drexler play a silent cat-and-mouse game, probing here, testing there, to ascertain the truth. Certainly, Marta is obsessed by Drexler. He, in turn, is  increasingly drawn to Marta.

Initially, he’s something of a cipher, a person without a past. Bodo portrays him with quiet resolve. But as Marta delves deeper into his aura of mystery, she uncovers an important facet of his life.

All the while, one wonders whether their slowly budding relationship is heading toward romance, if not a lustful encounter.

It’s a question that is only partially answered, but it frames the arc of this quietly intense film.