Since the mid-1960s Ken Loach has been using cinema as a critique of democratic capitalism, finding conundrums of social ill to be investigated through an ideological lens. To his credit his films are beautifully crafted and elicit performances from the cream of Brit talent, finding ways of making what for the less skilled would be polemical drivel into what for many are considered masterpieces of cinema.
As the latest Palme D’or winner, I, Daniel Blake arrives on North American shores with some of its prestige already intact. Loach won previously for his 2006 film The Wind That Shakes The Barley, a far more kinetic tale about fighting for the IRA. With Blake the fight is with bureaucracy in the form of the Brit welfare system, a byzantine set of rules and regulations that seem fit to dehumanize more than provide support. Blake is a man caught between the rungs of this social safety net’s chains – too sick to work, not sick enough for benefits.
At the welfare office he meets a young mother, Kate, with her kids Dylan and Daisy, and finds a new purpose in trying to get their lives in order as his falls into chaos.
The film uses melodrama in concert with the Newcastle setting to provide a truly grey, miserable look at the working poor, tying exploitation in the form of sex work to the same kind of prostitution that one undertakes in order to conform to the Kafkaesque regulatory system of benefits. As it plays out the film becomes more and more fable-like, making overt what at least attempted to be subtle in the early going. Whether this ruins the film is up for debate, but I for one would have liked things to roll with a bit more subtlety rather than the telegraphed last act that feels more like hitting the point over the head than necessary. Still, with fine performances by Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Mick Laffey and more, there’s much to be commended here.
Monday Sept. 12, 8:30pm @ Scotiabank 1
Friday Sept. 16, 6:00pm @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1