From Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (2020), dir. Lili Horvát (image courtesy Greenwich Entertainment)

After 20 years practicing neurosurgery in America, Márta (Natasa Stork) returns to her native Budapest to rendezvous with János (Viktor Bodó), whom she fell in love with during a conference. But when he misses their appointed reunion, she tracks him down, only for him to apparently not recognize her. Thus begins writer/director Lili Horvát’s Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time, this year’s Oscar submission from Hungary. From there it becomes an increasingly uncertain delve into the reliability not just of memory but even one’s sense of self.

It’s impressive how long Horvát plays out the ambiguity of the scenario she’s created without wearing it thin or breaking credulity. Is Márta delusional? Is János gaslighting her? Even more impressively, the movie maintains a realist tone throughout, despite the outsized narrative core, which makes the psychologically unnerving premise all the more effective. Stork gives a riveting performance, constantly fighting for control despite everything undermining her. This film was not on my radar but is already one of my favorite surprises of the year.

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Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time opens in theaters and virtual cinemas on January 22.

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Dan Schindel

Dan Schindel is a freelance writer and copy editor living in Brooklyn, and a former associate editor at Hyperallergic. His portfolio and links are here.