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EXCHANGE AND DIVIDE

UK, 1980 (MIFF 1981, British Independents)

Director: Margaret Dickinson

Exchange and Divide takes a popular contemporary theme and develops it in unexpected directions. The effect is to bring under scrutiny both social relations and some of the conventions which condition their portrayal in the cinema and on television. The opening scenes use familiar devices of fictional cinema, and appear to be the beginning of a story concerning marital breakdown and the search for personal fulfilment. The central character, Kenneth Carr, is a successful executive working for a multi-national company. He has left his wife, Eva, and is facing the implications of their impending divorce. The couple have two children who are living with Eva in the family home.

The natural expectation is that the film will make revelations about the emotional history of the marriage, and about the thoughts and feelings of the principal protagonists. But there is a sudden change of course. The narrative is interrupted and the film adopts a documentary form of presentation. The principal informant is Kenneth's solicitor who is using the Carr marriage as a convenient case history on which to hang an exposition of family law and domestic finance. Information is fed in through family photographs, newspaper cuttings and statements from the parents of the couple, and from the woman employed by them to clean their house. At first these interludes appear to illustrate the narration, but gradually they begin to undermine it by offering insights which conflict with the solicitor's implicit assumptions. This does not involve a return to the themes proposed in the opening, the subjective experiences of Kenneth and Eva remain a matter for speculation. Attention remains focused on the couple's resources, the history of their property, jobs and earning power, but the scope of the analysis is broadened. When the solicitor sums up by showing how he thinks the Court will divide the Carr assets, the issues not only appear quite different from those suggested in Kenneth's articulation of rage and regret at the beginning of the film, but also much more complex than those contained in the "factual" resume of the case which followed.

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