This year’s Palme d’Or winner at Cannes Film Festival, Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake is a cautionary tale for all of us in times of austerity and financial uncertainty.
Set in Newcastle, Northern England, Daniel Black has fallen on hard times following a heart attack that’s left him unable to work. A bereaved Blake lives alone following his wife’s death from cancer, he’s proud, honest and kind but finds himself dealing with the kind of bureaucracy that would test even the most zen of us losing our shit. Without an income he has not choice but to claim government benefits but is denied so he requests for the decision to be sent for appeal. In the weeks that follow he has to complete a ridiculous hurdle of events in order to claim Job Seekers Allowance just to get back by. The humiliation and frustrations of such a process are evident and both sides of the coin are treated with sensitivity in the film – the empathy of a Job Centre worker who’s not allowed to assist claimants, and Daniel’s computer illiteracy meaning he can’t even apply for help online without numerous attempts and help from a neighbour.
During one depressing visit to the Job Centre Blake loses his temper upon witnessing a young women, Katie, and her two children, Dyland and Brianna, being treated unfairly. They become friends and Blake helps them settle into her new home as they have no friends or family close by due to being uprooted from London and rehoused. Both Katie and Daniel have their tragedies but together they find friendship and support. Their intertwining lives lead to paths neither would ever have foreseen and make for some uncomfortable viewing for the audience.
The powerful yet simple story is made even more so by the wonderfully understated but spot-on performances of the lead cast. Dave Johns gives an incredibly moving performance of a proud working class man who just wants to retain his self-respect. His honest and passionate portrayal allows the viewer to easily put themselves in his shoes and empathise with his struggle. Hayley Squires is wonderfully natural and plays a much more openly vulnerable character in Katie meaning she has some of the most heart-wrenching scenes in the film. A great chemistry between them warms you to this unlikely friendship.
Loach has always produced work to highlight society’s most vulnerable and tell their story and he does so with immense care and realism here. Most notably his characters are good honest normal people who just want to live their lives with pride and dignity, however, what the film highlights is that the governement social support systems provide anything but and are simply not adequate nor humane. Despite
Despite it’s dark subject matter there are laughs and heart-warming moments that show that people do still want and need community despite government policies that seems to have dissembled it. It’s important to note that this story is not just highlighting a British problem as the lack of government housing, zero hours contracts and the cutting of government support services resources are all global issues so don’t think we are immune here in New Zealand.
I, Daniel Blake is a challenging watch that manages to bring warmth and humour alongside the thought-provoking and provocative subject of everyday poverty in modern society.
I, Daniel Blake is out in NZ Cinemas now.
Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar.