DIRECTOR: LILY HORVAT
CAST: NATASA STORK; VIKTOR BODO; BENETT VILMANYI
HUNGARY 2020; ENGLISH SUBTITLES; 95 MINS
CURZON HOME CINEMA FROM MARCH 19TH 2021
REVIEW by KATHLEEN BONDAR
Opening with a quote from Sylvia Plath’s Mad Girl’s Love Song is the right touch in Lily Horvat’s cleverly construed feature about neurosurgeon Marta Vizy. Marta (Natasa Stork) has abandoned an illustrious career in America to take a job back home at the Budapest Medical Hospital in pursuit of Professor Janos Drexler (Viktor Bodo), with whom she fell in love whilst at a conference. The move is impetuous and based on a fleeting affair which, it turns out, might be a figment of her forensic imagination.
What constitutes the mind plays throughout Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (Felkeszules Megahatarozatlan Ideig Tarto Egyuttletre). Marta diagnoses and operates on the brain; at the same time she undergoes psychotherapy to analyse the workings of her own mind. She is convinced she has a pathological personality, obsessing over the imaginary until it becomes reality. Did she actually have an affair with this man who it turns out is married? Or has she imagined it? The therapist challenges her: “I believe you want to me to diagnose a personality disorder so you can get a medical paper saying your lover didn’t cheat on you.”
Returning home heralds a step back in many respects for Marta, not least for her career prospects as she settles into a role beneath her and suffers the jealousy of those left behind. It also shines a light on a country still smacking of post-communist deprivation where hospital patients and staff alike must supply their own toilet paper. Facilities in Budapest are rundown and utilitarian. Even the lives of top neurosurgeons are far from well-healed; they rely on gifts from patients to top up the pay cheque. Alex (Benett Vilmanyi), the besotted son of one patient, thrusts bank notes into Marta’s palm after she operates on his father.
And yet, there is an appeal to a city which embraces high culture without the trimmings. In the midst of the bleak there are moments of elegance, aided and abetted by Schubert scores in the film. Marta follows Janos to a classical concert; she meets him in a dusty antique shop; they walk along streets with facades of Austro-Hungarian grandeur. And then, there is the majestic Liberty Bridge spanning Buda and Pest where Marta longingly hopes to meet Janos.
Whether Marta imagines her love affair is teased throughout the film to the point of frustration. Is the brilliant neurosurgeon actually unstable? Following the mind of Marta is fascinating, not least owing to Natasa Stork’s pearlescent quality on screen, reminiscent of film stars from classic cinema past.