Acclaimed British director Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, the best so far at the Cannes Film Festival, is a moving portrait of what a stubborn bureaucracy can do to men and women as they struggle through joblessness and poverty.
Based on extensive research and interviews by the screenwriter, Paul Laverty, Loach’s work focuses on a fictional story, that of Daniel Blake. He is a middle aged widower in North East England, who finds after a heart attack that he cannot work or get State benefits. And his painful experiences are narrated with ruthless starkness in a film that is a strong indictment of all that is wrong with the UK today.
Though I, Daniel Blake may seem somewhat exaggerated and one can predict how it would end, there is no denying that it is a work which causes pain. With standup comic Dave Johns as Daniel Blake and Hayley Squires as Katie, the single mother of two children who is relocated to a Government flat in Newcastle with its cheaper standards of living, Loach’s movie takes us right into the storm of bureaucratic obstinacy and unfeeling attitude.
The film is filled with scenes where we see the helplessness of the man who after his illness is asked by his doctor not to do to carpentry, which is his profession. Asked to sustain with the help of a job seeker’s allowance that he can hope to get only by filling up an endless number of forms on the net, Blake just cannot do that. He has no computer and no smartphone, and every time he tries filling his form on a computer in a public library, he fails.
Life does become a little cheerful after he meets Katie, and he is perfectly happy playing grandfather to her two children, helping them with their chores and fixing up things in their modest flat. Katie is suffering as well, trying to find a job, and in desperation she takes up something that is certainly not a dignified way of living but will put food on the table.
Loach paints the grimness of a working class life in England with all its pain and pathos. There is one mortifying scene where a hungry Katie faces utter humiliation as she is caught shoplifting. This is what hunger can do, and one is reminded of what Charles Dickens wrote in Bleak House: “...what the poor are to the poor is little known, excepting to themselves and God”.
The movie tells us that such degrading poverty can happen even in a wealthy nation like Britain.
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