I, DANIEL BLAKE (USA 2016) ***** Top 10

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i_daniel_blake.jpgA middle aged carpenter who requires state welfare after suffering a heart attack is joined by a single mother in a similar scenario.

Director: Ken Loach
Writer: Paul Laverty (screenplay)
Stars: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy

Review by Gilbert Seah 

British director Ken Loach is one director that constantly makes films about the country’s social problems – be it child services (LADYBIRD, LADYBIRD), the working class (RIFF-RAFF) or growing up poor (KES his first and best feature film, SWEET SIXTEEN). In I, DANIEL BLAKE, his new film, the setting is Newcastle where the Geordies speak with their accent. The accent can be understood as the actors speak slow enough and enunciate clearly but the film still comes with English subtitles.

Daniel Blake (Dave Johns, who won this year’s BFTA Award for Best Actor for this performance) is caught in a rut. The government services are sending him in circles and he is out of patience and money. After Daniel suffers a heart attack, he is on the dole. But he is ‘sanctioned’ and has to show that he is applying for a job to keep his benefits. But he cannot really work because of his heart condition. It does not help that Daniel is not digital by default, i.e. he is not familiar with using the computer. While at one of these meetings, he meets Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mother who has moved from London to Newcastle with her two children because she is finally given a flat to live in. The two poor souls become good friends – each helping each other out.

There is a nice tune in the film called “Sailing On” by Ronald Binge. The tune has a great significance as Daniel’s late wife used to tell him while sick with him looking after her: “All I want to do is sail away, with the wind at my back.” These words will have again special significance at the end of the film.

Unlike a lot of films about social problems, Loach’s film (written by Paul Laverty) shows that there are still good people around – even in government offices, particularly in the scene when one sympathetic officer, Ann (Kate Rutter) offers him, for the first time, decent and heart-felt advice.

The most important message of the film is uttered no less than by Daniel himself. “When you lose your self respect, you are done for.” But the film shows how difficult it is to keep this self-respect and honesty. His neighbour, a black nicknamed China (Kema Sikazwe), finally had it and starts selling sneakers mailed from China selling them at 80 quid while these same shoes are found sold in stores in the high street at more than double the price. Daniel frowns on China. The film shows easy money could come by like an opportunity knocking at ones door, though it may not be a good thing. Katie’s children are in dire need of essentials like food and shoes. She opts for the easy way out like shoplifting (though she does get caught) and later on more desperately as an escort. Daniel finds out. The confrontation scene between the two on the subject is deeply emotional and gut wrenching to watch.

Ken Loach shows that a film appearing so simple with no special effects, cheap theatrics, sugar coating or pretentious dramatics can turn out to be so moving and absorbing. I, DANIEL BLAKE is a great film. It took away the Palme d’Or this year at Cannes. Bring lots of Kleenex!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahWgxw9E_h4


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