How far would you go for love? In Lili Horvát’s “Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time” (2020), the answer is all the way to Budapest. The film arrives in Chicago just in time for Valentine’s Day. However, it’s questionable whether it’s a romance or a psychological thriller.

The plot centers on Márta Vizy (Natasa Stork), a brilliant Hungarian neurosurgeon who meets another Hungarian doctor, Drexler János (Viktor Bodó), at a medical conference. Immediately convinced he’s the one, she gives up her home and job in the States to follow her intuition and him to Budapest. Yet once she finds János, he says he doesn’t know her.

Wondering whether she’s lost her heart or her mind, Márta sees a psychiatrist. The film covers their meetings in tight closeups that often crop parts of her face. This cinematic technique alerts audiences that they’re not seeing the full picture; they’re not getting the full story. But even with these clues, the majority of viewers will likely assume Márta is nuts or János is a liar or both.

Granted, it’s difficult to be wide-eyed and open-hearted enough to believe the two are destined for one another when others in Márta’s world offer opposing views. A male colleague accesses her situation and concludes, “Women are so stupid. Even the smart ones.” And a female cab driver warns her, “If you’ve already got to chase him, the whole thing is a bust. I’ve been there, that’s why I’m telling you. Just gotta let him go.”

Fate also puts a roadblock in Márta’s path in the form of an adoring young med student (Benett Vilmányi). As Márta weighs whether to accept his love as a consolation, János begins to show an interest in her. Yet at this point, the nebulous nature of the movie may make viewers believe Márta is imagining it. But is this a reflection of the character’s delusions or of our own jadedness? After all, whether a person is deemed an insane stalker or a hopeless romantic depends on how their overtures are received. And the ambiguity between János and Márta adds tension to the subtle story’s slow build, while poking at the audience’s cynicism.

“Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time” is the official submission of Hungary for the Best International Feature Film category of the 93rd Academy Awards in 2021. Whether the Academy will go for a nuanced drama written and directed by a woman will be determined when Oscar nominations are announced on March 15.

Until then, Chicagoans can see the recommended film via Music Box Direct. The digital streaming platform now allows customers to watch rentals online and on television screens (via Roku and other apps). By renting a film, patrons directly support Chicago’s historical Music Box Theatre during its temporary closure and gradual re-opening since the revenue is shared between distributor and exhibitor. Visit MusicBoxDirect.com to learn more.

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Images of Natasa Stork alone, and with Viktor Bodó, are from “Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time” © 2020; courtesy of NFI World Sales

Janet Arvia

Ms. Arvia is an online columnist and critic; entertainment ghostwriter reaching nine million visitors per month; award-winning artist; grant-winning filmmaker; and Janet-of-all-trades. Press releases on...