Director: Ken Loach
Writer: Paul Laverty
Verdict: Good enough, begrudgingly
I, Daniel Blake is the new film from Ken Loach, who’s famous for such inflammatory works as The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Kes, and Cathy Come Home. It won the Palme D’Or at Canne, because, just of course the French gave it an award.
The film follows a one Daniel Blake, who’s suffered a terrible heart attack and can no longer work but still gets deemed fit to work, and the film follows him as he makes his way through the Brazil-esque, labyrinthine tract that is the British benefits system. I mean we cater to our unemployed better than America but still…
And in a way that’s the problem with I, Daniel Blake, watching the film I felt a lot of sympathy with Daniel and the friend, Katie, that he makes over the course of the film, but I also felt a lot of sympathy with the people working in the job center for example, who get all sorts of vitriol from Daniel and Katie and we’re expected to think ‘oh quite right’. I mean cards on the table time, I am middle class and a student so on one level this isn’t a problem I have any right to comment on but my family have had to deal with this problem. So I can say with complete confidence that our benefits system is a nightmare, however, let me say this. In our film course we had to study a film maker called Sergei Eisenstein, he made a lot of soviet propaganda in the 20s through to the 40s. He’s responsible for films like Strike and Battleship Potemkin, and in his logic making propaganda is a perfectly artistic exploit because if propaganda films are to work at all on any level they have to work artistically and he’s perfectly right, and the reason we study him is because he did a lot for film, his montage theory is responsible for everything we do with editing today. It’s not like Ken Loach, as an important filmmaker as he is, is going to do anything that revolutionary, so when I feel like I’m being hit round the head with a wet fish how am I supposed to react? I mean the fish is salmon and I quite like salmon but the actual hitting itself isn’t very pleasant at all. (metaphor being, whilst I agree with Loach’s polemical argument, can he lay off please?)
Now, like I said, I broadly agree with the polemical argument of I, Daniel Blake. It is farcical how contrived Daniel and Katie’s situations are but these kind of things do happen, it is portraying the benefits system as this great Kafkaesque farce and quite right because it is, and there are moments in the film that are incredibly striking, not least the moment in the food bank that absolutely everybody has talked about. Dave Johns’ performance as the titular Daniel is absolutely superb. Up until now he’s been mainly known for comedic work and that makes sense because the film is very funny in this Kafkaesque, Orwellian, absurdist manner, but he does the dramatic stuff very well also.
However, and I’m going to talk about the ending here, I’m going to try to give away as little as possible but I have to talk about it. Because it is, frankly, the most blatant, gratuitous instance of audience manipulation I have seen for quite some time. Stephen Spielburg would look at it in his most saccharine mood and balk. There’s a moment in Strike when it inter cuts the striking workers being massacred with an actual bull being killed, and it’s a horrible moment, but it make sense for the polemical point he’s making. The ending to I, Daniel Blake is abominable, and it made me angry at Ken Loach because I can watch Eisenstein’s propaganda and think how did people not laugh at how, just extraordinarily manipulative this is, because you don’t need that ending I mean I can’t really express quite how gratuitous it is, and there is a speech at the end which tries to link the events of the ending to the political point and it’s utter tosh, utter tosh.
Fuck’s sake Ken, I was with you until then but I know when I’m being talked down to thank you.