Remember when you wrote people letters?
British master director Ken Loach with I, Daniel Blake makes an incredibly timely realist film drawn from the same tried and true vein as Kes and Riff-Raff.
In a connected modern world too many people are forgotten. Screenwriter Paul Laverty’s heartfelt story of an independent and clever old Geordie caught in a bureaucratic nightmare is painful to watch in the best way possible. Photographed candidly on the streets of Newcastle and dramatically in its cheapest rented abodes an all too relatable picture of society’s rock bottom is brought to incredibly select cinemas across small parts of the country for our viewing displeasure.
Specifically, Dan’s troubles begin with a heart attack that puts him off work by his doctor’s request. Unfortunately, most people don’t have the luxury of being able to just stop working anymore. Anyway, that’s what Employment and Support Allowance is for; supporting those in need, right? A safety net for the tax-paying citizens of this fair nation until they can once again stand on their own two, over-worked and underpaid feet. The crux of the film, then, is the missing link between his GP, who orders him to not work until fit and the “Healthcare Professional” that after having filled out a points-based questionnaire over the phone with Dan, states the opposite. So he shouldn’t work, but he can, apparently, so he has to find a new job but he can’t take it. Throw in trying to apply for Job Seeker’s Allowance. Throw in how they do everything online. Throw in he’s an older fella who’s less familiar with the ins-and-outs of E-mail and the internet than Hilary Clinton and you’ve got yourself a movie.
A model of a man, the character of Daniel Blake is fleshed out in its entirety through many well written interactions with his neighbours and the stone-like, dead-eyed drones he meets while he’s out trying to get things done. He’s fatherly to his entrepreneurial young neighbour, he yells at the forking man and his dog turning the grass surrounding his run-down castle into a poop minefield. Overhearing a young single mother whose JSA appointment, barely missed, could ruin her life if not completed that day, Daniel is spurred into life against the establishment and asks no.1 in the queue if he’ll just let the young lady jump in real quick – a seemingly simple solution right? Wrong. They’re both thrown out because common decency doesn’t comply with procedure.
The film successfully generates hatred in the viewer towards paperwork, towards the rich and greedy and conversely warms us with tender moments of human interaction and acts of bureaucratic kindness common amongst our realest people. An intense irony runs throughout the film that verges on comical but excellent emotive performance from Dave Johns and Hayley Squires mask the cynical undertones. One such moment for me was when Daniel and around 30 others are being taught how to write a CV and how to make it stand out; surely they’d all end up writing it the same way if they work according to the class’s plan? Forced to run a rat-race he no longer understands, in a world he no longer recognises, it’s impossible not to feel for the man. Provocative questions are raised. Do we place too much of our identity in what we do for work? Is the act of kindness dying? To what extent should we help our fellow man? The media, refugee crises, the NHS, Brexit. We’re just people trying to stay alive, see this film and self-medicate a reality check.
British filmmaking at its best.