Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator (1967)

A sexologist (Aleksander Kostic) gives a brief explanation of sexuality throughout the ages and in art, leading us into an introduction to Izabela (Eva Ras), a young woman enjoying living the single life, who works as a telephone switchboard operator in Belgrade. On a double date with her best friend Ruza (Ruzica Sokic), she meets Ahmed (Slobodan Aligrudic), who works as a rat catcher.

As their relationship develops, we hear from a criminologist (Zivojin Aleksic) about how criminals dispose of bodies, combined with stock footage of murders and scenes of a young blonde woman being brought up from an underground cistern. An autopsy reveals that she suffered blunt trauma and then ultimately died of drowning.

Meanwhile, Ahmed leaves his small apartment to move in with Izabela, eventually having a shower installed for her. However, when he is away for an extended time on business, she gets bored and gives into the advances of a randy postman (Miodrag Andric) who constantly flirts with the women at the switchboard. A few weeks afterward, Eva finds out that she is pregnant and, out of fear and embarassment, spurns Ahmed when he returns, resulting in him going on a drunken binge. Her attempts to reconcile with him ultimately end tragically, with Ahmed a fugitive.

It's quite a simple plot, and it fits in with the film's short running time. However, throughout, director Dusan Makavejev sprinkles in bits of communist propaganda music and film with scenes of surprisingly frank sexuality. It was ultimately this frankness in later films that led to his exile from Yugoslavia, as well as having some of his more extreme films even banned in the West.

Still, the relationship and ensuing tragedy are rather straightforward, despite the unconventional timeline of the film. It has been compared to the work of Jean Luc Goddard, but I feel that Makavejev in this case is a lot less self-reverential and smug. Rather, he knows he is pushing boundaries within a society that could push back at him rather violently, but he decides to take his chances anyway. It is also interesting in seeing in this film something I have always been kind of mystified about with that former Eastern European nation: Josip Tito's attempts to balance a traditional communist state while still trying to remain somewhat open to the rest of Europe, something that angered not only the Soviets but some of the despots that surrounded him. Not to mention trying to balance a country made up of three major religions that traditionally are hostile to each other and trying to maintain the morals of those religions within what is officially an atheist state.

All these conflicts come out in this film, and much more blunt than in most Eastern European cinema. And, yes, Eva Ras is beautiful and naked quite a lot, so if you don't care about any of the above there is still that.

Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator (1967)
Duration: 75 minutes
Starring: Eva Ras, Slobodan Aligrudic
Director: Dusan Makavejev

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