I, Daniel Blake

I, DANIEL BLAKE, drama, not rated, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

Ken Loach, the leg­endary Bri­tish di­rec­tor with a so­cial­ist-in­flected body of work stretch­ing back more than half a cen­tury (his 1969 Kes isa work­ing-class clas­sic), is still tak­ing up arms against a sea of trou­bles and stand­ing up for the com­mon man. With I, Daniel Blake, he’s landed an­other blow to the body im­politic, and in the process picked up last year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes.

Daniel Blake (vet­eran stand-up comic Dave Johns) is a six­ty­ish New­cas­tle car­pen­ter who has suf­fered a heart at­tack. The film be­gins with a litany of inane ques­tions be­ing put to him by a gov­ern­ment “health-care pro­fes­sional” over a black screen on which the open­ing cred­its roll. Daniel’s doc­tor tells him he can’t re­turn to work for a while. The bu­reau­cracy says he’s fit for em­ploy­ment and de­nies him ben­e­fits. His baf­fled help­less­ness is com­pounded by the fact that Daniel is a stranger to the world of com­put­ers that has taken over the sys­tem. There are no pa­per forms to fill out and sub­mit for ap­peal. You have to do that on­line.

Loach can be a lit­tle heavy-handed in his de­pic­tion of the hu­man cogs in the bu­reau­cratic wind­mills against which Daniel tilts, but not so much that you won’t nod your head with sym­pa­thetic recog­ni­tion. This story be­comes one in which or­di­nary peo­ple have to help one an­other, be­cause in post-Thatcher Bri­tain, the state is not de­signed to meet the needs of the lit­tle guy.

Daniel, a wid­ower, be­friends a young mother, Katie (Hay­ley Squires), who is be­ing sim­i­larly stonewalled by the sys­tem. He lends his work­man’s skills to fix up her slum flat, and helps her try to nav­i­gate the labyrinthine halls of wel­fare. Other peo­ple at the same sub­sis­tence level, neigh­bors and strangers, do what they can to help.

Loach takes us through a se­ries of mostly un­der­stated scenes that evoke the help­less­ness and frus­tra­tions of peo­ple des­per­ate to do an hon­est day’s work to pro­vide for them­selves and their loved ones. He builds to a scene in­volv­ing a spray-painted man­i­festo that gives the film its ti­tle, a mo­ment to which he brings al­most too much re­straint. But it’s his sym­pa­thetic un­der­stand­ing of his char­ac­ters, and their beau­ti­fully hon­est evocation by his ac­tors, that give this lit­tle movie a big wal­lop. — Jonathan Richards

Makeshift fam­ily: Dave Johns, Hay­ley Squires, Dy­lan McKiernan, and Bri­ana Shann

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