I, Daniel Blake movie full length review - Unapologetically Political, Openly Moral
After Ken Loach's latest film "I, Daniel Blake" (2016) took home the most prestigious film award of the year, Palme d'Or at Cannes earlier this summer, there has been a lot of discussion or at least anticipation of discussion on the film.
The Guardian, for one, published a long article where people from all walks of life shared their differing opinions on the film. As a fierce story of social relevance, telling about an ailing carpenter whose life goes to pieces in the vast sea of bureaucracy, "I, Daniel Blake" is bound to be criticized for being didactic and demagogic as it hits the commercial screens. Some will fall in love with the film for its honest authenticity, while others will be put off by its unapologetic directness.
The film begins with the title character, Daniel Blake going through an assessment in the unemployment office after his doctor has deemed him unfit for work due to a heart condition. Unfortunately, Daniel ends up in a paradoxical position, the likes which Kafka could have devised, where he is not concerned unhealthy enough to apply for sickness benefit and has to therefore apply for job seeker's allowance, coercing him into a pointless cycle of searching for jobs he cannot really take. In the middle of this absurd jungle of gray offices and red tapes, Daniel befriends Katie, a single mother of two in a similar situation. Daniel's cardinal sin in the bureaucratic world is his refusal to play by its rules, to fake and to pull the strings where needed.
Loach is known for his simplicity in both style and narrative without ever coming close to minimalism. His simplicity is of a different kind, a simplicity of the heart on the level of the subject matter which is often social by nature. This simplicity gives room for the unfolding of story and character in their natural state which is of the utmost importance for Loach's intentions. At times warm and funny, at others raw and brutal, the story of "I, Daniel Blake" is hard to be dismissed for its authenticity. It will likely speak to most people as do the great realist novels of the 19th century. It is a simple voice with real thought and emotion behind it, saying something of relevance, straight out and loud. While the title of the film might pave way for quasi-libertarian interpretations of Loach's critique of the social benefits system, his intentions could not be clearer to those who have seen the film. The titular character is merely someone to carry the torch of solidarity; to Loach and others, he represents a mass of millions. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian wrote that the film "intervenes in the messy, ugly world of poverty with the secular intention of making us see that it really is happening, and in a prosperous nation." This is the simplicity which gives Loach's cinema its moral aura.
Although many may feel put off by the film's direct social message and strong moral pathos, which can feel didactic or even demagogic at times, and it will not find its dearest fan in yours truly either, I think the film deserves acclaim for its integrity. The film does not hide its rhetoric or its message. After all, its "leftist agitation" may not be stranger than the ideology of upper middle class family life propagated by contemporary popular culture. The way I see it, "I, Daniel Blake" is more a personal expression of worry and concern rather than manufactured propaganda with an impersonal agenda. At worst the film might be preachy or sentimental, but at best it is the most authentic thing Ken Loach has done since "My Name Is Joe" (1998), a parallel work in the truest sense of the word. To put it bluntly, I am glad that "Jimmy's Hall" (2014) did not end up being the legacy Loach left for cinema; but "I, Daniel Blake" could very well be just that.