Remembering Dusan Makavejev’s chaotic masterpiece “Ljubavni Slucaj” [1967 Yugoslavia]

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When you think of flawed geniuses in cinema, you tend to remember and love them precisely because of those flaws. The flaws obviously are not in their undoubted technical or artistic skills – more like their thought processes, and their attention span, or lack of. Dusan Makavejev is a prime example. While Fellini and Godard have a method to their madness – their seemingly irrelevant motifs and symbolisms will come back to haunt you, sometimes after you leave the theatre, Makavejev will leave you perplexed, pouring out motifs in his films as though he simply couldn’t bear to store them any longer – his chaotic mind’s exploding with ideas!

Take his rather conveniently titled drama “Ljubavni Slucaj, ili Tragedija Sluzbenice P.T.T” for example [Eng. Title: Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator]. The ambiguity of what he’s trying to say shows through in the title itself. Of course, the film can be watched purely as a passionate love story as one half of the title, or a murder mystery as the other half suggests, but that’ll still together make up only half the film. The rest of what we’re shown, fascinating as it is to watch and listen to, is at best thinly allegorical, and more likely a product of some bizarre sense of humour. I mean, what has the reproductive cycle of rats (and henceforth the dangers they pose to mankind) got to do with a love affair, or Adam and Eve got to do with an illicit encounter – he’s either gotten ahead of himself, or the man’s plainly pulling our leg. But rather than making us annoyed, we merely end up remarking wryly, “oh well, here he goes again…”

Over the years I’ve come to expect this as part of standard Makavejev fare – my introduction to his films was fortunately and unfortunately through one of his later works, “Sweet Movie”, which kind of threw me straight in the deep-end of his twisted mind. That was the misfortune – it took me a long while to revisit the film and try to understand what it meant. The fortunate part, is that as I went through his back films, I could chart the metamorphosis of this restless mind. “Love Affair or…” was only his second full-length feature, and ‘Makavejev’ characteristics have already become fairly well defined. If I were to recommend anyone Dusan Makavejev, I’d ask them to start from his first feature film, “Covek Nije Tica” – an impressive debut, and then work upwards. While the Love Affair may have some rough edges and, to put it mildly – rather eccentric edits, it nevertheless is a very interesting film that gives us a fascinating snapshot of 1960’s (and Marshal Tito’s) Belgrade, and its peoples’ aspirations at the time. The cinematography is quaintly grainy and the stridently martial/revolutionary soundtrack will become part of Makavejev’s signature in his later films. Some people may consider “WR: Mysteries of the Organism” as his best work, but for me, this early work from Dusan Makavejev’s chaotic mind is his actual masterpiece, and Highly Recommended Viewing..! Eclipse Series Box-set
This is a lovingly restored Critereon NTSC box-set that showcases his first two full-length feature films and a documentary – my recommended choice.




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