Sunday, April 16, 2017

I, Daniel Blake (2016)

Director: Ken Loach
Writer: Paul Laverty
DOP: Robbie Ryan
Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Dylan McKiernan

A middle-aged carpenter who requires state welfare after suffering an heart-attack is joined by a single mother in a similar scenario. He is advised by his doctor to rest while the state benefits department deems that he is fit to work and denies him benefits till he can win an appeal. Meanwhile he has to rely on job seekers allowance for which he has to pretend to be looking for jobs that he cannot take due to his medical condition.

The film couldn't have come at a better time as we've had Brexit and Trump happen since its release with the whole World pretty much reinforcing a death-wish like far right turn. It is not to say that the film explains the results but it is dealing with the woes of working class poor from the developed world which is cited as the prime-mover. The film begins with a voiceover sequence during its opening credit where the protagonist is being asked ridiculous questions as part of an assessment by a 'Healthcare Professional'. It is set in Newcastle and had me thinking wrongly that the lead actor was the Geordie from Alan Partridge TV series. Most of the Northern cities in England have been ravaged by the Thatcherite policies and quite recently by the Tory led austerity measures after the financial crisis. NHS and the benefits program are always a prime target even though the Brits are quite possessive of the former. The film shows that the bureaucratic benefits machinery over the years have transformed itself into a mechanism which will wear the people down from getting the benefits and it is the most weak and vulnerable that suffers most. In India also, we can foresee this coming with the introduction of Aadhar which will gradually mutate into a mechanism to take away the support systems that are already there in place.

The cruel bureaucracy is contrasted with the community nature of the people who are suffering. The other main protagonist of the film is the struggling single mother of two, played by Hayley Squires, who is new to the town and is late for an appointment because of which her benefits money is denied. She meets Daniel Blake during this ordeal and he starts taking care of her. The contrast cast between the communal nature of these people and robotic state is very stark which you don't totally buy because of the easiness with which Tories have come back to power. They do pit the working class people against each other by playing the tax card and maybe that is that.

Overall, it is a bleak and depressive film that leave you angry but there are many light moments throughout. It won Ken Loach his second Palme d'Or at Cannes. He is a very political filmmaker and the only films of his that I've watched apart from this are Kes and The Wind that shakes the Barley. I, Daniel Blake is a masterpiece and I am surprised that it didn't create much buzz at the academy awards. Says something about America that.

Rating: 5/5