The Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator, 1967

The Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator is a fascinating, offbeat, and engagingly idiosyncratic examination of love, betrayal, world history, psychology, and criminology. The film opens to Dr. Aleksander Kostic’s droll lecture on sexuality, and cuts to the images of several provocative artworks. It serves as a comical prelude to the meeting of a shy, Albanian sanitary inspector, Ahmed (Slobodan Aligrudic), and the extroverted switchboard operator, Izabela (Eva Ras) amid the chaos of a rapidly changing social and political climate. Dusan Makavejev distills the evolution of Ahmed and Izabela’s relationship through a series of tangentially related, historically based documentary footage – the rise of Communism, the abolition of the church, the government program to control rat infestation, an agricultural scientist’s observation of an egg – to create a lyrical and sympathetic portrait of love in a time of uncertainty. Makavejev further fragments the linearity of the narrative through criminologist, Dr. Zivojin Aleksic’s investigation of a possible homicide, and in the process, examines the looming tragedy of a contemporary love story.

Dusan Makavejev reflects the turbulence and duality of 1960’s Yugoslavia in The Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator: a disconsonant fusion of artistic expression, sexual liberation, and political suppression. Through clinical, anesthetized lectures on psychological behavior, Makavejev explores the tumultuous nature of human relationships as a reflection, and often as a consequence, of the environment. Ahmed represents the traditional order: practical, conservative, and loyal party member. In contrast, Isabela embodies the spirit of the times: unconventional, self-involved, and independent. Inevitably, their union becomes an allegory for the tenuous dichotomy of the Yugoslavian nation – a cultural, ideological, and social revolution for national identity and autonomy – a struggle for the collective soul of a people.

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