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article imageReview: I, Daniel Blake exposes the perils of modern living Special

By Tim Sandle     Oct 23, 2016 in Entertainment
London - Ken Loach, the acclaimed British film director, has released his Cannes Palme D'Or winning movie, "I, Daniel Blake" this week and it delivers a biting slice of social realism.
Ken Loach movies are renowned for their gritty social realism, reflecting many of the difficulties and troubles of modern living that people face. The films both reflect and criticize modern society, yet they are not without their humor and they invariably contain hope, the type of hope that stems from struggle in the face of bureaucracy and conservative politics.
Ken Loach, now aged 80, has been making movies for six decades. His career during the 1960s saw a series of films that brought key social issues to light. Arguably the most influential was a movie that highlighted homelessness — Cathy Come Home (1966); and this has been Loach's main theme ever since, films that portray working-class people in conflict with the authorities above them. Loach is a stalwart of British social realist cinema alongside fellow directors Mike Leigh and Stephen Frears.
Loach's latest movie — I, Daniel Blake - has been released this week. The movie won the coveted Palme d'Or, Cannes (this was Loach's second win; his previous was in 2006 for The Wind That Shakes the Barley.)
Loach developed the film with his long-term screen writer Paul Laverty, and the film features Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Dylan McKiernan and Briana Shann. This continues Loach's tradition of using new actors, which tallies with his attempt to add as much realism to the drama as possible. Dave Johns, the star of the film is a stand-up comedian with no previous film acting experience, yet he delivers here an appropriately measured and naturalistic performance.
The theme of the new movie is the unfairness around the U.K.'s welfare system, about how it has been eroded over time through successive right wing governments, and how focus of societal blame has shifted, somewhat, to the recipients. Central to the movie is the character Daniel Blake, who is a middle aged carpenter. Blake requires state welfare after injuring himself. Despite suffering with a heart condition, a review by a private medical company regards him as ineligible for sickness benefit. Blake, too ill to work and not considered (by the powers-that-be) to be ill enough to qualify for welfare payments (a sort of capitalist Catch-22), embarks on a battle against the system, helped by others in similar issues within the North East England community.
The movie has the familiar Loach's trappings. While the subject matter is grim (and no less important), warmth and humor are present in liberal measures. The performances are superb, especially the lead performances from Dave Johns and Hayley Squires (who plays a young single mother called Katie, befriended by the Daniel Blake character.)
In terms of humor, the movie touches on the generational gap that some older people face when faced with new technology. “We’re digital by default”, one character mentions; to which the Blake character responds, “Yeah? Well I’m pencil by default.” The impersonal 'digital world' is often challenged by human interaction.
With the critique of the system, there is one scene at a food bank, where the character Katie, hungry and on the verge of collapse, finds herself grasping a meager tin of beans. It is touching, moving and, at the same time, a sad reflection of how a rich country like the U.K. chooses to organize its resources within. Part of this is due to political philosophy, the movie argues, and part of it is simply down to the ineptitude and inefficiencies of the bureaucratic welfare system.
There are plenty of touching moments in the tragicomic drama. These include scenes where the Blake character fixes up Katie's flat and encourages Katie to return to part-time education, as a potential route out of her predicament. The bonding of the two characters becomes a form of strength; in a bleak situation they retain their sense of hope and, importantly, their dignity even when faced with apparent insurmountable odds.
More about I Daniel Blake, ken loach, social realism, Socialism
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