I, Daniel Blake
Dir: Ken Loach
Opens November 17
Carpenter Daniel Blake is a survivor. He’s had to be; his wife has died leaving him bereft but he must go on. Even a heart attack couldn’t stop him. But one thing just might: being caught between the fangs of a welfare bureaucracy that seems constructed to rob him of his self-respect and means of living. Helping single mother Katie (Hayley Squires) and her two kids is on the agenda too. But will that save him or pull him under?
Ken Loach has made a career of out of creating films that document the lives of those thought lesser in modern England. Since the wonderful Kes in 1969 (and before that on TV), Loach has worked at sensitising audiences in a way that is clearly a ministry. He’d announced retirement with his last film, Jimmy’s Hall in 2014, but the conservative government in the UK once again brought out the fire in him. Hence: I, Daniel Blake.
Casting stand-up comedian Dave Johns in the role of Daniel has proved a masterstroke here. He brings a necessary organic facet to the social realism on screen. That’s nothing new in a film by Loach but it means the humour he injects sounds natural, rather than scripted. Filling in government benefit forms on-line for the first time, his frustration finds voice. The cursor? “…apt name for it!” Paul Laverty’s script shows how humour becomes a life preserver as the Sisyphean task of applying for jobs he can’t take, appealing decisions he hasn’t been told about and doing it all in a world that is digital by default when he is “pencil by default!” wears even the most stoic down.
But for Loach the struggle against such odds is never undertaken on one’s own. His belief in the decency of people means that small kindnesses like Daniel intervening on behalf of Katie, someone he has never met, become heart-warming moments of light. In this showcasing of the necessity of community, Loach excels: people simply helping each other. Does Daniel’s on-going altruism reward him with a sense of purpose? Yes, but such a transaction is never the aim. It’s simply what people do. That amongst the script there is room for nuance over polemic makes the film even more special. One particularly effective scene in a church-run food bank will motivate volunteers and donations all across the diocese. It’s possibly the most moving scene I’ve viewed this decade.
In fact I’m going to go further. This Palme D-Or winning film is the most moving film of the year and every one must see it.
And here's the trailer...