REVIEW: I, Daniel Blake

18 12 2016

i-daniel-blake“This doesn’t have to be your problem.”

The above is essentially a throwaway line in Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake,” but it’s the one piece of dialogue that stuck with me throughout. The global rise of far-right politicians and policy remedies has threatened longstanding social welfare structure, and this is likely a much scarier development in Europe, where these programs are much more deeply ingrained. In this time, what constitutes a problem, and for who?

Loach has long been an empathetic chronicler of people relegated to the periphery of central institutions in their lives – family, city, nation. By involving us in their marginalized or overlooked stories, his cinema makes the case that a problem caused by our societal arrangements is not just a problem for one person. They are a problem for all of us, and by taking society at face value, we sign off in support of these issues.

“I, Daniel Blake” takes an unsparing, unadorned look at austerity in England through the eyes of a man most likely to slip through a hole in the safety net. Dave Johns’ eponymous Daniel Blake is among the most vulnerable left behind by technological changes in the economy: a senior citizen losing his capacity to contribute physically and remains well behind the pace digitally. When a heart problem sidelines him from a construction job, Daniel must navigate the bureaucratic mess to collect disability leave … or is it unemployment? The system can never quite figure out what to do with him or what kind of checks he should collect.

Loach’s feelings about the red tape ought to be crystalline from the opening credits, which roll over a black screen during a dialogue exchange between Daniel and a welfare officer. She’s obviously reading from some kind of script meant to level the playing field by creating easily replicable standard talking points for each person she sees. To Daniel, however, this talk is demoralizing and as depersonalized as hearing words spoken by people we cannot see in the frame.

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