Sometimes when we watch movies we learn things about ourselves. A movie about Adolph Hitler might make us think, “Gee, I’m not so bad after all,” while one about Mother Teresa might provoke, “Gee, I’m not that great after all.” Watching Separation brought me to several realizations. The first is that I am not the art house type (and I hereby vow to stop reviewing movies made for that audience), and the second is that I don’t like art cinema (or “art movies” or “art house films”). The more important realization is why I don’t like arty movies. I really don’t like to dance around a subject; if you have something to say, say it and be done with it. I don’t mind imagery and metaphor if they are incorporated into a direct, comprehensible statement. Art cinema does not always make direct, comprehensible statements. So it is with Separation.
Attracted to the film because it is described as “the inner turmoil of a woman’s breakdown both marital and mental” and containing “often humorous dialogue,” I thought it might be my biography, circa 30 years ago. I enjoyed Separation as much as I would enjoy reliving the drama of that tumultuous period of my life. That is to say, not much.
Separation was filmed in 1967 (actually that’s also when all my troubles began!) mostly in black and white, or—shall I say?—monochromatic. There are a few brief nude scenes that were filmed in color. They do not have the same impact as The Wizard of Oz switching color when Dorothy arrives in Oz. It is choppily edited on purpose, as if this is what goes on in your mind when you go bonkers. Perhaps it is. Or perhaps watching Separation makes you feel that way.
Surprisingly, the costumes and hairstyles do not seem as dated as one would expect in a 40-year-old film. Most of the female characters are either attractive or interesting to behold. The men? Not so much. Jane Arden stars as the woman breaking down. We can’t differentiate between what she is experiencing and what is truly happening; in that way Separation is effective. Not being able to distinguish the real from the unreal is certainly the sign of some kind of breakdown.