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Phenomenology speculates on how and why humans feel the world in the way we do leading to a philosophical understanding of our sensations. Lili Horvát’s latest film, Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (Felkészülés meghatározatlan ideig tartó együttlétre), carries a mysterious blend of phenomenology and scientific drama of high-intensity. Written by the director, the narrative follows Vizy Márta, an esteemed Hungarian neurosurgeon played by the striking Natasa Stork, who whilst in New York on placement falls for a fellow neurosurgeon Drexler, played by Viktor Bodó, who is also Hungarian. The two appear to agree to meet in Budapest at an arranged time, however Drexler never arrives, leaving Vizy to speculate if their connection had ever truly happened. Assuring that her connection with Drexler was true she decides to remain in Budapest as a surgeon. As the title infers, Horvart’s film deals with the unknown; the very prognosis doctor’s dread. How well Vizy withholds is key to the film’s unravelling story, unpacking how Horvát’s unique blend of uncanny directing and tight screenplay promotes the tension between the real and the blurred to a perfect extent.
The film’s thrilling undertones are sedimented through its structure as a character study of Vizy. We follow her movements in every scene as she traipses, follows, bemoans and works tirelessly in the surgery theatre (another meta-diegetic cue of the film). Stork is impressive: her beaming blue eyes, stark red lips and disconcerting gaze feels sharp, particularly when in environments such as the surgery theatre, in which she is outnumbered by male colleagues. Vizy is portrayed as an autonomous figure, she lives alone, eats alone and drinks alone; whose dilemma lies in the lust she holds for a figure that counteracts her liberated demeanour. Whilst Vizy must reconcile that Drexler has forgotten her, she continues to engage with his enigma through videos and photographs online as if her screen will subsume her fantasy of him.
The film is clever for a range of reasons including the syncopated and sometimes jarring score by Gábor Keresztes that meanders along to the pace of Vizy’s unravelling mind throughout the film. The delayed and infrequent piano chords brought to mind the unsettling aura of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut which also tells of a New York doctor traversing his desire out of desperation for spontaneity. However, unlike Nick Nightingale’s outward voyage in Eyes Wide Shut, the conflict arises from within Vizy’s mind, as her internalised passions lie in the ever handsome and elegant Drexler.
Whilst the plot centres on Vizy, Drexler is fundamental to the film as the gracious and earnest neurosurgeon she lusts for. He also has refined taste in old amplifiers and classical music. We learn that Drexler is a regarded writer whose work transcends the classification of the scientific, earning itself the label of literature. When appearing unannounced at the launch of his book, Vizy gazes at him piercingly during the Q&A. To one of the questions in the audience he responds by discussing the abstraction a surgeon must apply to their patients, detailing that the methodical and scientific can only take you so far before one must operate abstractly and outside of one’s own mind. Drexler’s analogy replicates the self-inflicting damage caused by Vizy’s forced relationship with him.
Drexler’s enigma is all the more heightened by his passion for classical music, particularly as we gauge early on that he was a child prodigy choir singer. Such detail gives his character a distanced yet nuanced sophistication which inherently makes the audience champion his position. The abstraction which Drexler speaks of can also be read as the phenomenological experience in which humans have no definition or grasp of, love being the most pertinent of them all. Uncannily, this is precisely what Vizy longs for throughout the film.
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