Wednesday, May 16, 2018

2018 Cannes Marathon: I, Daniel Blake

(Winner of the Palme d’Or and Palm DogManitarian Award at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival)

Directed by Ken Loach and written by Paul Laverty, I, Daniel Blake is the story of a disabled man who learns he won’t be getting benefits as he befriends a single mother struggling to get by. The film is an exploration of a man dealing with his health and the need to get what he’s earned as he also deals with the modern world and their indifference towards him and others trying to get by. Starring Dave Johns and Hayley Squires. I, Daniel Blake is an engrossing and searing film from Ken Loach.

The film is a simple story of a man who had just recovered from a heart attack as he realizes that he is unable to work due to his health as he is seeking health benefits only to see that things have changed and certain requirements are needed which he is unable to comprehend. Along the way, he befriends a single mother with two kids who is struggling to find a job as she is in debt and needs to take care of her children as he offers to help her out. Paul Laverty’s screenplay follows the titular character (Dave Johns) who is already dealing with the loss of his wife as well as his failing health where he knows he can’t do any kind of work where he hopes to get health benefits feeling he has done so much. Yet, he is dealing with the fact that he has to fill documents online and digitally as he doesn’t own nor knows how to use a computer as he has hard time trying to fulfill the requirements. Even as he has to attend meetings that end up being a waste of time.

When he goes to a welfare center, he also hears the complaints from this young woman in Katie Morgan (Hayley Squires) who is being sanctioned for arriving late as she had no idea where the building was. Daniel sees what has happened to her as he tries to help her out while filing his own appeal for his benefits which becomes more difficult despite the help of a young neighbor in China (Kema Sikazwe) and a welfare worker in Ann (Kate Rutter). Still, Daniel’s struggle forces him to come to terms with the way the government treats him and many others as he makes a defying act to the system that won’t give him what he wants.

Ken Loach’s direction is understated in its approach to telling the story of this man and his fight against a system that wants to prevent him from getting what he deserves. Shot on location in Newcastle, the film does play into this world of the working class as well as those who haven’t caught up with the ideas and methods of the 21st Century. While there’s some wide shots in Loach’s compositions of the locations as well as one key scene late in the film that play into Daniel’s defiance against the system. Much of Loach’s approach to compositions is emphasized on close-ups and medium shots to play into the intimate moments in the welfare center and the food bank as well as the interactions with the characters. 

Notably in scenes that play into the struggle of people in a system that is complicated where Daniel struggles to understand what he had to do to get these benefits as if there is something de-humanizing to what is happening to him. Loach’s direction also showcase a scene at the food bank where Katie breaks down due to her hunger as it emphasizes that she and Daniel are among those that are struggling. Even as it has this arc where Katie’s desperation for work would lead her into a terrifying path that would force Daniel to get the attention of the system in a grand way. Overall, Loach crafts a rapturous and poignant film about a man’s desire to get health benefits for himself and others in need of help.

Cinematographer Robbie Ryan does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it is largely straightforward in terms of its approach to natural lighting for some of the scenes at night while being completely natural for the scenes in the day. Editor Jonathan Morris does brilliant work with the editing as it has a few transitional fade-outs for much of the film with some rhythmic cuts to play into some of the big dramatic moments. Production designers Fergus Clegg and Linda Wilson do fantastic work with the look of the apartments that Daniel and Kate live in as well as the welfare center and the food bank with all of the food that is available.

Costume designer George Slater does nice work with the costumes as it is largely casual to play into the look of the characters and the city they live in. Sound editor Kevin Brazier and sound recordist Ray Beckett do terrific work with the sound as it is natural in its setting as well as capturing the chaos that emerges in some of the film’s dramatic moments. The film’s music by George Fenton is wonderful for its low-key score that is a mixture of piano and orchestral music that is used sparingly in parts of the film including its final credits.

The casting by Kahleen Crawford is superb as it feature some notable small roles from Steven Richens as a friend of China in Piper, Micky McGregor as a convenience store security guard named Ivan, Kate Rutter as the sympathetic welfare worker Ann, Sharon Percy as a less sympathetic welfare worker in Sheila, Kema Sikazwe as Daniel’s neighbor China who sells counterfeit shoes to make a living, and the duo of Dylan McKiernan and Briana Shann in their respective roles as Katie’s kids Dylan and Daisy who learn a few trades from Daniel as well as get a perspective on the way the world works. 

Hayley Squires is incredible as Katie Morgan as a single mother who had just moved to Newcastle from London as she deals with her new surroundings, hunger, and the struggle to feed her children as she becomes desperate as it’s a somber performance from Squires. Finally, there’s Dave Johns in a phenomenal performance as the titular character as a 59-year old carpenter who has a heart condition as he’s trying to get benefits that will ensure his own security as he deals with the modern world and all of its demands as it is a gripping and realistic performance that showcases some of the struggles that people from a previous generation or two cope with modern society in not getting what they deserve as Johns’ performance is truly a major highlight of the film.

I, Daniel Blake is a tremendous film from Ken Loach that features great performances from Dave Johns and Hayley Squire. Along with Paul Laverty’s compelling script, naturalistic visuals, and themes about respect and the need to get what one person truly deserves. It’s a film that does have a lot of political insight into the idea of welfare and how a man decides to defy the system in an attempt to get his benefits for himself and others shackled by the expectations of the 21st Century. In the end, I, Daniel Blake is a magnificent film from Ken Loach.

Ken Loach Films: (Cathy Comes Home) - (Poor Cow) – Kes - (Save the Children Fund Film) - (Family Life) - (The Price of Coal) - (Black Jack) - (The Gamekeeper) - (Looks and Smiles) - (Which Side Are You On?) - (Fatherland) - (Hidden Agenda) - (Riff-Raff) - (Raining Stones) - (Ladybird Ladybird) - (Land and Freedom) - (A Contemporary Case of Common Ownership) - (Carla’s Song) - (The Flickering Flame) - (McLibel (1997 film)) - (My Name is Joe) - (Bread and Roses) - (The Navigators) – Sweet Sixteen - (Ae Fond Kiss…) – (Tickets) – (McLibel (2005 film)) – The Wind That Shakes the Barley - It's a Free World - Looking for Eric - (Route Irish) – (The Angel’s Snare) – (The Spirit of ’45) – Jimmy's Hall

© thevoid99 2018


Brittani Burnham said...

Great review, I liked this one as well. The actors had amazing chemistry.

Anonymous said...

I’ve been meaning to watch more Ken Loach. This could be a good place to start.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-Actually, they were non-professionals which made it much more realistic as it's one of the reasons why I like Ken Loach.

@vinnieh-Actually, the best film to start with is Kes, then go to The Wind That Shakes the Barley and then whatever else you can find.