When I, Daniel Blake won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016, Ken Loach entered a highly select group of directors who took home the award twice. Much has been written about it since (it comes late on our Canadian screens as Cannes 2017 edition is already at the Gates) people even suggesting the jury’s top recognition had more to do with the overall body of work – Loach is already 80 – than the film itself.
I, Daniel Blake bears Ken Loach (and screenwriter’s Paul Laverty) signature all along. It depicts the despair of a 59-year-old worker, Blake, who, after a heart attack, must apply for social care. Mr Blake contributed a whole life to a system soon to discover it doesn’t really work both ways as he struggles, while trying to be of assistance to a single mother trapped in a similar situation, against a bureaucratic monster designed to crush them.
In Loach’s harsh reality , the “benefit” system is an entity feeding on systematic day to day humiliation scheme against individuals. Dave Johns and Hayley Squires, as the main protagonists, offer the usual strong and believable performance stirred by the director for decades. It is a trademark and it fully works again.
Loach and Laverty, this time around, don’t expose things with much subtlety calling this kind of violence… violence. They display the chronological mechanism of a vicious circle deprived of any decency, a dehumanized antagonism leaving nothing but despair.
At the end of the day I, Daniel Blake is the work of a great old chap of a social filmmaker doing what he does best: Resist!