Love Affair, or: The Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator (Dusan Makavejev / Yugoslavia, 1967):
(Ljubavni Slucaj ili Tragedija Sluzbenice P.T.T.; The Tragedy of a Switchboard Operator)

L'amour et la mort in Tito's Yugoslavia, couched in thorny digressions, connections, non-connections. In a society in disconcerting flux, the affair is enacted by outsiders: Away from the switchboard, the Hungarian heroine (Eva Ras) seeks sensual enjoyment, meets a shy Arabian worker (Slobodan Aligrudic) and invites him home. Dusan Makavejev sketches the couple's date snugly, like an early Milos Forman comedy, only to spike the coziness with jaunty inquiry, a seduction intercut with stock footage on TV of the red flag planted atop a pillaged cathedral ("a swell show"). A shock flashforward finds Ras being fished out of a well, a soggy corpse -- the central juxtaposition swings from Ras, alive and vibrant in the afterglow of sex, to her body dissected on an autopsy slab, then back for a poignant reconsideration of the romance. Aligrudic is a "clean, orderly" Party member, "too serious" perhaps yet capable of great joy upon news of his beloved's pregnancy, at least until he discovers he's not the father. Somewhere outside of the diegesis, Eros and Thanatos are given voice: An elderly sexologist lectures on how we've regressed since the genital idolatry of ancient times ("Nobody ever protested!"), a criminologist regales the camera against a wall of knives, nooses, bottled fetuses. Another offshoot unreels as a micro-documentary about the threat of rodents, a poem that ponders, "Who will govern the Earth? Man or rat?" Makavejev's juggling style is exceedingly rapid and lucid, he follows a pair of gals looking for a good time and, with just a sideways glance, links posters of Mao, Lenin, and a movie star for a pungent equation; elsewhere, his warm-blooded montage documents the baking of strudel, a little song, and Ras's sunny shout-out to Jayne Mansfield with two cartons of milk. Rueful investigation, radical lament, and saucy sex skit, the film celebrates the force of sexuality even as it clashes, tragically, with traditional ideology. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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