It’s an odd quirk of mine. I love a film with a long title, especially when it’s done tongue-in-cheek. It shows that the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, even when dealing with heavy themes or when it’s reaching for some prestige. Think Dr. Strangelove; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With, Birdman; or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, or both Borat films. Regardless of subject matter, the carefree nature of an intentionally overlong title typically leads to good results.
Not here, though. Hungary’s entry for the Oscars, Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time is nebulous, boring, mildly pretentious, and ultimately meaningless. That goes for both the title and the movie. Framing itself both as a modern romance and a neo-noir, the film fails at each genre attempt and just falls completely flat.
The film begins with Marta (Natasa Stork), a renowned neurosurgeon working in New Jersey, returning to her hometown of Budapest after meeting another Hungarian neurosurgeon at a convention and apparently having a fling. We are shown none of this, with only Marta telling us that it was practically love – or passionate attraction – at first sight, and that they agreed to meet one month later at her favorite bridge to resume their relationship, something reminiscent of An Affair to Remember. When Marta quits her job, flies to Europe, and shows up to meet Janos (Viktor Bodo) on this oh-so-romantic bridge, not only is he not there, but when she tracks him down at his hospital, he claims to have never met her.
That should be the end of the movie right there. You took a risk for love, it didn’t work out. Go back to America, get your job back, and resume your life. As a beautiful and brilliant woman, you’ll find love someday, even if you have to deal with stereotypical Jersey douchebags. It even looks for the briefest of moments that she’s going to do the sensible thing. Instead, as she’s literally going through security at the airport, she turns back and decides to do the healthiest thing possible, stalk the guy for the rest of the first act. She takes a job at the public hospital across the street from him despite being overqualified. She tails him home in a taxi. She takes a shitty flophouse apartment just so she can get a view of the bridge where she got stood up. It’s what we call coping!
The film then tries to introduce some noir mystery elements to offset her obsession. The two keep running into each other, and it’s clear Janos has some interest in her. They stare. A lot. Marta goes to a psychiatrist to see if there’s anything mentally wrong with her. She explores the possibility that she made up their entire tryst in her head. Her American colleague Helen (Linda Moshier) calls and texts her constantly because despite a month’s planning, Marta’s departure was quite sudden and unannounced, so there’s concern on Helen’s part that something horrible has happened. Marta performs risky brain surgery on a man, and in return for her success, his 20-ish son (Marta’s kissing 40) becomes enamored with her in an attempt by the film to foster suspicions of a love triangle, a May-December romance, or a toxic masculinity angle. I’m really not sure what.
This might all work if there were any point to it, but I couldn’t see any. There’s no real mystery, no grand plot, just a bunch of stuff that happens, and apart from the spontaneous inciting event, all of it is pretty mundane. The whole affair has a sort of Occam’s Razor feel to it, where a simple, honest conversation would solve the entire thing, what little there is to actually “solve.”
And not for nothing, but I was really put off by how regressive this film was towards its protagonist. From the very beginning there’s this misogynistic attitude for Marta that has no real purpose or payoff. When she takes the job at the university hospital, the man who hires her lets it be known that his colleagues will “tear her apart” because she’s overqualified and they’re intimidated by that. When he asks why she wanted this job, she’ll only tell him it’s personal, but he and several others surmise it’s because of a man. “Women are so stupid, especially the smart ones,” he condescends. Alex, the horny med school student son of Marta’s patient (Benett Vilmanyi) initially objects to Marta performing the surgery at all for no other reason but gender bias, and then once it’s successful feels he’s entitle to persistently and annoyingly woo her. Even Marta’s sessions with the psychiatrist lead to a presumption that she actually wants to be diagnosed as literally hysterical so she’ll have an excuse not to accept her lover leaving her. It’s kind of disgusting, really.
For what it’s worth, the cast does well enough with the material, with their charisma being the only saving grace of the entire slog. And I will confess to snickering at one bit of cleverness in Marta’s self-gaslighting. Whenever she calls Janos’ office, the hold music is Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” a constantly repeating piano line that can be equal parts calming and infuriating depending on the moment. It’s the one witty touch this film has. Apart from that, it’s a whole bunch of nothing. The only curiosities I had when it was all said and done was wondering if there was something I truly missed in this film to warrant the decent reviews it’s gotten worldwide, and if Hungary submitted it because it was literally the only movie the country put out last year.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? Do you like long movie titles? What foreign films do you just not “get”? Let me know!