I, Daniel Blake (2016)

Review #1,381

Director:  Ken Loach
Cast:   Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy
Plot:  A middle aged carpenter who requires state welfare after injuring himself, is joined by a single mother in a similar scenario.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Won Palme d'Or (Cannes)
Runtime:  100min
Rating:  NC16 for coarse language
International Sales:  Wild Bunch

Finally got to see this after reading about mixed opinions on the awarding of the Cannes Palme d'Or to Ken Loach's new film, when there was the glittering opportunity to present it to a female director like Maren Ade for her brilliantly-conceived Toni Erdmann (2016), one of the year’s best pictures, or even Loach's younger compatriot Andrea Arnold for American Honey (2016). 

It is his second win of the same award after The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006), and I would like to think quite deservingly so, on the strength of this powerful social realist work alone.  Now 80 years of age, the British master filmmaker of such iconic pictures as Kes (1970), Riff-Raff (1991), and Land and Freedom (1995) has delivered one of his finest post-2000s films, made tremendously more urgent and devastating post-Brexit in a nation rocked by social discord and disharmony.  

Social welfare policies aren't helping those who really need state assistance.  Through Daniel Blake, an old man who is struggling to apply for countless schemes for re-employment after suffering a heart attack, we go through his frustrating journey that severely tests his patience.  Time is not on his side, and bureaucracy is ridiculously inept. 

There’s another story of a chance encounter between Daniel and a single mother of two kids, also facing problems involving state assistance.  Loach builds this story as the film’s emotional core, where humanity and compassion give light to an extremely bleak scenario. 

The performances are empathetic and naturalistic, so is Loach's unadulterated approach to simplicity, shooting in a style that doesn’t call attention to his craft.  He lets the socio-political context, actors' performances and his piercing script impress upon viewers. 

One could say that I, Daniel Blake is also a tearjerker, but it earns our emotions through honesty and identification.  Regardless of where you are from, one can never bear the sight of the underprivileged being suffocated out of the system that was meant to care for them in the first place. 

Loach's film asks difficult questions of his country’s policies.  But even if it takes years, maybe decades, to get social welfare right again, at least I, Daniel Blake is in a great position to be regarded (by film historians in time to come) as one of the significant cultural catalysts. 

Verdict:  A tremendously urgent social realist work with a strong emotional core, blessed by Loach’s unadulterated approach to simplicity.  


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