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NYFF: I, Daniel Blake

Here's Jason reporting from the New York Film Festival on Ken Loach's Palme D'or winning drama

Having come from childhood poverty myself I'm always ready to side-eye a movie that directly tackles the subject - for instance I wasn't a fan of Beasts of the Southern Wild because it felt (I know I was in the wilderness on this one) as if it too romanticized Hushpuppy's home-life. But that's just one pitfall for a subject I'm probably overly picky about - if a film's too preachy, if it turns its subjects into ciphers of suffering for its noble cause, well I don't want to go to that place either.

Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake walks the line. It's very much a Message Movie all capital letters, but as you can tell by its title it does matter to Mr. Loach who these people are...

His interest in their intricacies and idiosyncrasies helps raise the movie and its subjects out of the gutter they find themselves...

We meet Daniel Blake (an excellent and moving Dave Johns) following a heart attack that's rendered him temporarily unfit for work. He very much wants to work, but his doctors advise him against it, and this puts him in a precarious position - he must apply for governmental assistance that he doesn't want for a complicated situation that all the notarized forms in the world still can't manage to acknowledge. The black and white data-points of their thinking have no room for humanity. Or rather, capital letter, Humanity.

At the insurance office Daniel makes friends with Kattie (Hayley Squires, quietly devastating), a woman in a similarly frustrating situation - she's new in town and looking for work but the two young children she's raising on her own make her schedule a challenge. Daniel and Kattie come to rely on each other for emotional and practical support, and find some solace and some frustration (there's that word again) as they wind their way through the bureaucracies that would rather be rid of them and their specific needs, than actually assist.

It is all, at times, hammered home too heavy. I mean that literally, given Daniel's carpenterial talents - just making him a carpenter (and one who is especially prone to carving fish at that) shows that Loach is keen on going Big here. But there are specifics, and specifics that rang eerily true to my own experience at that, that cannot be ignored. There are actually two scenes involving Kattie and her children - the food-bank scene and the sneakers scene - that are very nearly ripped right out of my own life.

So what to do with that? What to do when the capital letter Message Movie is actually sharing your own very personal message? Well big works sometimes, and Big works this time. This man, Daniel Blake himself, the I of the title, he is I and I is he. We, Daniel Blake.

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Reader Comments (3)

I share your views on Beasts of the Southern Wild. I wasn't a fan of it either.

September 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBensunce

The food-bank scene was one of the most devastating scenes I saw this year. Together with the interview with the doctor-scene in Fuocoammare.

September 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

I strongly disliked Beasts of the Southern Wild. Appreciate you saying that.

September 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCharlieG

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