Ken Loach’s everyday dystopia is scarier than fantasy

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

I, Daniel Blake
Opens May 26

4.5 out of 5

Ken Loach, socially-minded cinema’s  elder statesman, is not one to rest on his accolades (even though he keeps on getting them). Winner of last year’s Palme d’Or for Best Picture, I, Daniel Blake is a poignant stand against bureaucratic indifference towards people in need.

Loach’s 13th collaboration with scriptwriter Paul Laverty revolves around the eponymous Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), a carpenter who, following a heart attack, finds himself in the ridiculous position of being too sick to work and too healthy to qualify for government assistance. As Blake navigates the tricky and unforgiving waters of social services, he encounters other souls trapped in bureaucratic nightmares like his.

Daniel befriends Katie, a single mother of two who often goes hungry so her kids have something to eat. Despite Daniel’s efforts to help, Katie faces two options, both equally distasteful — but letting her children starve is out of the question.

As usual, Loach does a bang-up job building these characters. Daniel Blake is a proud man who isn’t out to become a symbol, but happy to be an active part of the community. His struggle is so real, it should, at the very least, make you uncomfortable. Katie is a bit less developed, but is given the film’s key scene, a devastating food bank meltdown.

Towards the end, the 80-year old filmmaker uses one of the characters as a mouthpiece to deliver — much like Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator— a blistering rant against British institutions. It’s a bit crude for his standards, but Loach is so mad he can’t stop himself. Actually, it made me wish for more directors willing to sweat blood for their beliefs. ❧