I, Daniel Blake
British master Ken Loach won his second Palme d’Or at Cannes for this timely drama about an aged, ailing handyman’s battle to survive after being denied his government health allowance.
Rumours of retirement swirled around Ken Loach in the wake of 2014's Jimmy's Hall, so the announcement that he was making a follow-up feature was greeted with genuine excitement. For nearly 50 prolific years, this great director has addressed socio-economic issues in Britain and beyond through the working-class heroes who populate his films. His relatable characters, with all their naturalism and sharp edges, leap off the screen as if real people in real, and usually dire, situations.
I, Daniel Blake won the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year, and it is indeed one of Loach's finest explorations of social realism. The eponymous Daniel is an affable, 59-year-old carpenter in Newcastle, fighting to collect his Employment and Support Allowance after falling ill. (Government illogic stipulates that his benefits will be taken away unless he looks for work, yet doctor's orders prevent him from working.) Waiting to sign on at the local Jobcentre, Daniel befriends Katie, a young single mother who is also being shoved around by the vagaries of the system, having just been relocated with her two kids from a London homeless shelter to an affordable council flat up north. A mutually beneficial alliance, and makeshift extended family, is formed.
Loach and his frequent collaborator, screenwriter Paul Laverty, spin a tale that will leave no one unmoved. Working with some of most powerful set pieces he has ever filmed, the director effortlessly builds empathy for two downtrodden people — honest would-be workers navigating a cruel tangle of red tape while trying to steal a happy moment or two.
I, Daniel Blake would be a superb career cap from a singular filmmaker, but let us hope Loach has more films left inside him!
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