Ken Loach has long been one of my favourite directors, with every film of his that I’ve watched (ten or so) getting either ***+ or ****. But none, in my opinion, has been better than I, Daniel Blake, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year.
Written by Paul Laverty, I, Daniel Blake stars Dave Johns as Dan Blake, a sixty-year-old widower in Newcastle (northern England) who is recovering from a major heart attack. His doctors inform him that he needs more time to recover before going back to work. But when he applies for Employment benefits, he has to take a written test which disqualifies him from the benefits (a health care professional has determined that Blake’s test answers indicate he can go back to work). So Blake tries applying for job seeker benefits, but they require him to spend 35 hours a week looking for a job he should not be doing.
While Blake is trying to figure out how to get enough income to survive, he meets Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mother (with two children) who is in a similar predicament, barely able to keep food on the table because she has fallen through holes in the state system.
The Wow! above is because I, Daniel Blake is one of the most humanizing films I have ever seen (and that is, perhaps, my primary criterion for greatness). Despite showing how the state often dehumanizes its citizens, and even its own employees (turning them into slavish rule-followers), I, Daniel Blake reveals the tremendous goodness in people both inside and outside the system and the potential each of us has to challenge the powers-that-be and to be a good neighbour. Blake, himself, is a prime example of a man who stands up against dehumanizing authorities as he seeks to improve the lives of the people around him each day. He’s not perfect but he’s one of the most inspirational characters ever depicted on film.
Critics will no doubt be unhappy with the pedagogical nature of I, Daniel Blake. This is not a film that hides its message. But the film is so stark and unsentimental, and delivers its message so effectively, that I have absolutely zero problems with that.
The acting in I, Daniel Blake is phenomenal (by all concerned, with Johns and Squires are perfectly cast), the cinematography is excellent, and the score is exactly what it should be for this film, namely non-existent. The writing is brilliant, with every word of dialogue feeling natural and all-too-real. Loach’s direction could not have been better, allowing the scenes to flow naturally. Well-deserving of the Palme d’Or and likely to make my top three of 2016 (perhaps even number one), I, Daniel Blake gets an easy ****. My mug is way up and I recommend this film to everyone! Don’t miss it!