Thursday, June 1, 2017

I, Daniel Blake: Monday, May 29 2017

I, Daniel Blake (2016) is a powerful film. It is directed by a master, Ken Loach, and written brilliantly by Paul Laverty. The dialogue that began the film, before any images appeared, had me laughing out loud. A little later, I realised I was laughing instead of crying. When Dave Johns began his incredible performance as Daniel Blake, he had me on his side and involved in his life immediately. Haley Squires enters the picture a little later as Katie, and she, too, caught my sympathy. The people in this film are real. It felt as if I were watching them, as a friend concerned about them and the difficulties they were facing in life. Ken Loach is an experienced director, and Paul Laverty has done a lot of writing: this is their masterpiece. If Oscars were awarded on how much a film touches the emotions of the audience, this film would win without any competitors. False sentimentality and melodrama leave me coldly unfeeling, but the reality of this movie touched me. Daniel and Katie were trying to overcome difficulties in their lives, but no one was helping them help themselves. I found this so sad.

The basic theme of the film is that two people are caught up in a bureaucracy that has to obey the rules of the system, without exception. Daniel is a carpenter approaching 60, who is being denied Employment and Support Allowance, even although he has had a heart attack at work, and his doctor has declared him unfit for work. He wants to appeal, but is frustrated in doing so because he is not computer literate. Katie is a single mother of two children from different fathers, and is obviously from a background that hasn't encouraged her to examine and control her own life. She has moved to Newcastle from London, as this is where the government has offered her a low-income flat. She has no job skills, with no prospect of gaining any. The government is slow in paying her benefits. She moves into the sex trade, where she does well financially. It is made clear that jobs are not easily found. She and Daniel play off each other so well, it is a delight to watch.

I, Daniel Blake reminded me of The Castle (1926) by Franz Kafka. During the period when I was studying Communism, I read this book. Here in the film, was the same atmosphere of a heartless bureaucracy; uncaring, helpless individuals administering a system within the rules. Even if a person wanted to help another, the system doesn't allow it. This a good argument in favour of the proposed basic minimum income which is in the experimental stages already in Finland, the Netherlands, and Canada, among other places.

Perhaps I, Daniel Blake is satisfying in that it is such a critique of social programs being administered by a government bureaucracy. The huge staff is being paid high salaries, yet the people who need help are grudgingly given a pittance. The huge tax burden that supports the whole system does provide jobs for lots of people as administrators, but it would appear to fall short when it comes to satisfying the requirements of those who really are in need. We are left wondering what is the answer in this day of automation.

I and my friends enjoyed the film, even if it did leave us feeling sad. It provoked an interesting discussion afterwards, in The Lounge at our Cineplex.

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