By: Muneeb Arshid
The great Ken Loach has always made films that are inherently political in nature and tend to sway audiences to either agree or disagree vehemently with his views. However, his latest endeavour ensures that many more people will be on the “agree with spectrum” finding this story more relevant to a larger audience. This is, of course, Loach’s Palme d’Or winning film I, Daniel Blake.
Now, this was a release from last year, technically, but as it’s coming around to our part of the world just now, it made it that much more important to review this film, especially for an art house cinephile like yours truly. This was a film that was lauded by critics and audiences around the world to which I respond: “yes, I agree!”
I, Daniel Blake is the story of Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) who has just recently suffered a heart attack and been medically laid off from work. However, because he is not earning any income and is quickly falling behind on paying his bills, he has to go through employment services to try and find jobs, or at the least show that he is looking for a job. Yes, the film is about Dan’s search for employment, but more so, the film is about the incessant bureaucracy that exists in this industry. It’s about how the bureaucracy can swallow people into a black hole of doom trying to navigate all sorts of different application forms and the internet (for those who don’t know how to use it, like Dan) and waiting for calls from people to hear about appeals and then replying back. Just watching this film made me hate all the times I’ve had to write applications and go to offices for menial work to jump through hoops. I, Daniel Blake does all of this perfectly, that sense of fear and anger that Dan feels resonates on screen and makes you feel similarly.
A top notch story requires great direction that Loach has provided but also actors who can take on the persona of the characters and make their stories feel as real as possible. Dave Johns stars as the titular Daniel Blake and brings to life a character that resonates with every person who has had to go through ordeals such as his. Alongside Johns is Hayley Squires, a single mother named Katie, who moves up to Newcastle from London and is immediately stuck in job trouble with the same company as Dan. She has a hard time coming up with financial support for herself and her two young kids and the decisions that she has to make for her family are truly heartbreaking. Both Dan and Katie work together to keep themselves upbeat for themselves, but more so for the kids. Both actors are absolutely wonderful in their roles; two very difficult roles that can be easy to mess up, but here are played to a tee. Squires in particular, during the food bank scene where just watching her go through that, makes you tear up at the situation that she’s fallen into. Absolutely phenomenal!
Ken Loach has always been a director who is political in nature. Some good, some bad, depending on the people that you ask. However, in I, Daniel Blake, Loach has made a movie where he makes a political point while also showing the humanity, or sometimes lack thereof in the situation of his characters when they are dealing with unemployment. He makes it a point to not make it too political or else this film could’ve gone in a very different direction and possible would’ve prevented this film from winning the Palme d’Or.
What I particularly love about this film is the use of background sound. There is no major soundtrack that is used, rather the use of the sounds of the city and the sounds of the environment which help in immersing you in the setting. This is especially apparent in scenes with no dialogue and just featuring the setting itself. Very well done!
Films screened at, and those winning the Palme d’Or, always get a reputation of being the film that only snobby critics and audiences would enjoy. However, I, Daniel Blake is a film that relates to a vast majority of people where people understand the harsh conditions of unemployment and how it can negatively (or positively) affect a family.
I, Daniel Blake receives a glowing grade of A- (8.6/10)