Cinema Review – I, Daniel Blake

With a Ken Loach film you know that you are going to get strident social commentary – and unashamedly (bless him), it is from the Left. His latest is set in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a world away from the high-rent glamour of London and the village-dotted dales of that green and pleasant land (no cheery vicars here). Widowed Daniel (Dave Johns) has been laid off work because of a heart attack, but the outsourced benefits office that is meant to alleviate his plight deems him ineligible for support payments. He can, though, qualify for some relief if he actively seeks employment – which his doctor insists he shouldn’t. As in Kafka’s The Trial, if it weren’t so infuriating it would be comic. Unexpectedly, he teams up with Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mother of two who is having a similarly futile experience with bureaucracy. Loach relies on neither visual gimmickry nor a heavy-handed Pavlovian soundtrack to make his point – he tells the story pure and simple. It is impossible not to find galling the degree to which the State (in Oz as well as the UK, if you’ve not been paying attention) has dehumanised so many people, or to be outraged by the blatant propaganda (ie bullshit) that attempts to mask the damage caused to so many for whom nothing trickles down in laissez faire capitalism’s rosy gluttony. Loach’s camera is taken to the streets and to a food bank – an incredibly harrowing scene – where there is only our shared humanity to be challenged and humbled by. What prevents agit-prop from stifling the movie is the entirely natural but avuncular relationship that grows between Daniel and Katie and the extraordinary performances from all involved. Katie’s kids (Brianna Shann and Dylan McKiernan) are beautiful, as is Daniel’s tenement neighbour (Kema Sikazwe), who flogs trainers on the street that he is importing by post from an online football tragic in China. And the ladies at the welfare office are poison and gold. Reality is out of vogue, but this is special.

2 responses to “Cinema Review – I, Daniel Blake”

  1. Len Heggarty says:

    It is not good to say the comment is from the left when the comment is true to what actually happens.
    That means it is comment from the centre. It isn’t political comment but what happens in social welfare in being objective. To be biased comment means the filmmaker is cutting down his patronage and therefore his box-office takings. That is not happening. this film is a real money-spinner
    Now the word “strident” means harsh, and that means in the review we have some bias here as this film is not melodramatic meaning overdone in public outcry. It is strident because no one says anything in the public arena about these anomalies of government in society. The man has a heart attack, and who cares/? The system does not care. That is the theme of the story in a continuing story where we use more computers as well lose compassion for our fellow man and woman. This film is about England and there is a thick English brogue indicating poverty.
    Right at this very moment in Australia is the unattended issue of Domestic Violence and it is increasing for the same reason where the governmental system does not listen. It just acts autocratically. Is Domestic Violence political left? No, of course not.
    And remember Bernie Banton and his asbestos-related death and “The system” that worked against him.

  2. Pat says:

    Firstly, respect and homage to the Pig house flicks for screening this movie. Great to see them rewarded with large attendances for it. Secondly,this movie is excellent. It treats its themes with humor and compassion and hits the nail squarely on the head. Thirdly, Len is right This is not left wing strident commentary. It is a realist text. Made by a master realist filmmaker who happens to be a socialist. If the reviewer knew the first thing (or cared) about current welfare policy and its injurious human costs he would allow that this movie is understated. But if the critic must review films with serious themes he needs to up his game and do a little research. In this instance he could start by reading ‘ Punishing the poor: The neo liberal government of social insecurity’ by Loic Wacquant. Or he could just read the newspapers. Last week the Guardian reported that In the run up to Xmas 20,000 letters per week are being sent out by centrelink informing welfare claimants they have a debt and threatening court action. Unless claimants can produce pay slips dating back as far as six years they are assumed guilty. One man who suffers from a anxiety disability became suicidal when he was sent a demand for $10,000 but was actually owed $700.

    The fact is that people are being driven onto the streets and towards self harm by the policies portrayed in this movie .But you wouldn’t know it from the condescending tone of this review. Nor indeed the cheerful demeanor of local centrelink employees. Or those who work for the American multinationals and mega charities that blood suck on the unemployed. This movie portrays such personnel following orders and making sure the trains run on time. Its a shame the reviewer failed to see the importance of a film that shines a spotlight on the human cost of these murky activities.

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