A short but sweet film that’s dripping in emotion, I, Daniel Blake delivers a strong and coherent message about Britain’s most impoverished people that sticks with you long after the curtain falls.
2016 has been a strange year, and whilst the political and cultural landscape has certainly taken a dramatic shift as of late, this year’s film releases have scarcely reflected that change in landscape. Predominantly this year we’ve been met with the easily digestible, never too heavy, super hero movie with good looking inoffensive cast from X and Y studios. True, we’ve had a sudden spike in R-rated superhero movies geared more toward adults lately, but just like a diabetic in a candy store this moment levity is short lived as any substantial themes are frantically thrown out the window in true Michael Bay fashion. It’s like studio executives will only green light the use of socio-political themes if directors can somehow shoe horn them in between the exploding buildings and people running around in ludicrously tight clothing. However, in a world of (admittedly entertaining) shallow cinema, one director dared to serve up a movie that unashamedly and with great ferocity gives you a great big thwack to the emotions.
Ken Loach (known for movies such as Kes, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, and Sweet Sixteen) has never shied away from loading his films with social commentary, and I, Daniel Blake is no different. Based in Newcastle, the film follows middle aged carpenter, Daniel Blake, who after a heart attack has been deemed unfit to work by his doctors. Forced to rely on the benefit system, Blake quickly gets knocked back by endless red tape and administrative difficulties to the point where he must take job seekers allowance despite being unable to work. During the course of the film we meet several characters who much like Blake are fighting to keep themselves above the poverty line. The single mother of two, the dubiously legitimate salesman, the film forces us to look at people without a safety net; people who are one bad turn away from utter disparity. Meanwhile, we’re left to question the supposed benefits system as they continue to force a handicapped Daniel Blake to jump through hoops for his benefit claims with little to no guidance. Even as a viewer I grew frustrated and hurt as Daniel was constantly belittled and reprimanded for not being able to use a computer to fill out his forms. The saddest part of this is that the story is barely fiction, and that all the heart wrenching and frustrating moments and almost certainly taking place in England somewhere and Ken Loach makes almost no attempt to dramatise the very real issues being highlighted here.
In terms of cinematography the film is incredibly basic and makes no attempts to be anything but. Aside from the slow fading transitions the movie keeps the visuals notably bland, which works well as artful shots and saturated imagery would definitely undercut the realism of the film. In truth the film feels one-part play and one-part documentary, as the Loach crafts a movie so raw you’d swear you were watching the actors on stage as the unfolding story kicks your empathy gland dangerously into overdrive. Though I went into the cinema wanting to stay level headed, the film gradually gnawed away at my barriers until I was left a raw emotional mess– like my entire emotional wellbeing was resting on the fate of each character. I’m not even going to lie, I cried in this movie. So did the person I went to see it with. In fact, we were so emotionally wrecked afterwards that we couldn’t speak for a good ten minutes after the film ended. Loach has done what few directors dared to do, I, Daniel Blake is a 100-minute ode to the working class which forces you to look at a harsh, desperate reality that doesn’t gloss over anything. The movie focuses on showing realistic portrayals of people, specifically the situations and decisions they are forced into in an attempt to avoid homelessness and starvation. Simply put, if you come away from this movie and you’re not riddled with guilt for every opportunity and privilege that you take for granted in life then you’re probably a heartless robot devoid of human empathy. Or a Tory.