Jane (Jane Arden) is a woman approaching middle age whose marriage is breaking up; here we take a journey through her state of mind as she recalls how she felt when the marriage began, how the relationship buckled under the strain of a lack of lasting love, and how she will end up in the future. For that future she worries she will have a nervous breakdown, but perhaps she can find love elsewhere, in the person of a younger man (Iain Quarrier) who can appreciate her for who she is and not, like her husband (David de Keyser), analyse her to the point of redundancy...
Jane Arden and Jack Bond staged a creative partnership for over a decade that saw them produce a handful of films that even today are little seen and only spoken of by true enthusiasts of British experimental work as seen on the screen. Arden was mainly involved with the theatre, and the feminist slant to her productions can be seen clearly in however a nascent form it may be here, although in Separation there is a playfulness to the examination of male and female relationships that offsets the more serious scenes where Jane will be crying on a swing in a children's playpark, for example.
However the sense of humour of Arden, whose script and storyline this was drawn from, exhibits itself in Separation, you still need to have a pretty high tolerance for avant garde filmmaking to get through it. There may be an anecdote near the beginning from an undertaker which describes an unusual incident at his job (something about a mourning widow tying a ribbon around her husband's manhood when left alone to view the body), and the events that follow on often have a wild and wacky, Swinging Sixties appearance, but there's an underlying despair about both genders and their inability to ever see eye to eye.
Arden was definitely doing her bit for equality, but whether she was fostering a greater understanding between the sexes was something not quite so apparent. This is not simply because Separation was so little seen, and even when it was it was not exactly welcomed with open arms by the critical establishment, but there too often occurs a willful obscurity about the meaning of the various sequences that may well have been a clear as day to Arden and Bond, yet will leave most dismissing this as a relic of its era. Certainly the trappings of its time are there, with psychedelic light show effects and a specially written song on the soundtrack from Procol Harum.
The more representational parts are anchored to their period as well, with a bunch of women, some naked, being humiliated by black-clad men at a swimming pool, or jump cuts to cavorting in a car wash when Jane is having the possibly symbolic trouble that she cannot drive her car out of the underground car park because the people whose vehicles are in the way won't take her seriously. There are some arresting visuals, such as when the makeup counter in a department store becomes a nightmare of accusing glares when Jane sees herself as a old woman visiting it, and you don't wish to be too hard on a production so obviously personal (especially as Arden ended her own life about fifteen years later - the signs of depression are here), but it's hard to imagine many having much patience with Separation nowadays, if they did back in 1968.