In this era of so much “reality” programming beaming straight into our homes via TV channels, going out to the movies has become, for me anyway, something I cherish again – a chance to choose a film that has the potential to transport me and become sucked into it’s world on a big screen.
Ken Loach’s new film (and winner of this year’s Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or) I, Daniel Blake does just that – and that’s why I think you should see it. Not because it’s unreal, but because it’s very real, leaving so-called scripted reality in the dust.
We meet Daniel (played by UK comic Dave Johns), he’s 59 and has suffered a heart attack a work, which sets him back a bit. This is a man who has in every way lived an honest, self-sufficient and good life, and you’d think when he need s help it’d be forthcoming as a result. This is not the case and if you’ve ever been down on your luck, you’ll get this film and if you haven’t, his story will show you that it can happen to anyone.
While signing on at the local Job Centre he meets single parent Katie (played by the amazing Hayley Squires) and her two kids, getting into a fight with the staff after failing to turn up on time. They bond over their circumstances and Daniel finds himself with a new project to spend his time on.
Squires is a complete revelation. As the selfless solo mum she’d rather go without food than have her kids or guest not eat, but later in the film when the family visit and queue for the food-bank she had me transfixed, Katie is reduced to her lowest point and its a show of such rawness and vulnerability that will stay with you.
It’s a real narrative about made-up people that seem so very real in the everyday they have to face up to. It’s a powerful look at losing oneself within the system – these characters are fine until they are not, and with no bigger aspirations than just to live a happy life, it becomes almost impossible for them to achieve. Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse… they can and do.
Such is Loach’s storytelling that in some ways this film could be reset as a dystopian science-fiction: the Job Centre personnel for instance could easily be robots carrying out their rote of tasks and learned rhetoric, but no, they are real humans. Only Ann shows a glimmer of humanity and care, but her manager soon pulls her up for breaching protocol and it’s clear she’s done this before and it’s against the rules to be so warm.
I, Daniel Blake is unloveable, yet I loved it. It’s not pretty, or sweet, or cute; it’s bleak, confronting and full of sadness and desperation – and you’ll actually feel something.