Film Review: I, Daniel Blake


Addy Fong reacts to the new film from Ken Loach:

It’s almost impossible to be emotionally unaffected by the story of I, Daniel Blake because the film confronts us with real world social issues that speak of inequality, injustice and a system that has failed so many it was once made to support.

Directed by Ken Loach, I, Daniel Blake is the story of a 59-year-old joiner from North-East England whose recent heart attack deems him unfit for work and without an income. As a result Blake (Dave Johns) tries to apply for welfare benefits but is hindered by a system that is cruel to both himself as a widowed man and to his friend, a single mother of two, Katie (Hayley Squires).

Writer Paul Laverty presents us with an honest script that echoes not only the ongoing struggle of many lacking a steady financial income due to a near impossible welfare benefits process but, perhaps as a result of social stigma that surrounds those receiving welfare payments, a lack of empathy or adequate social support free of prejudice and ridicule.

The unwarranted situation cast on protagonist Daniel Blake represents many people trapped by a broken system covered in red tape and paper forms; people who are struggling and in need of help but are downgraded to a number in a queue as they await their fate. The film’s desaturated colour palate, camera movements consisting of simple pans and Loach’s decision to shoot in ordinary locations that seem clinical and disengaged leaves viewers feeling hopeless, echoing the sentiment of the characters. Throughout the film, you experience a flurry of emotions including anger, helplessness and despair.

Loach’s honest filmmaking is simple but effective, needing no fancy techniques such as elaborate cinematography, special effects or fancy visuals, highly complex character design or the use of an emotionally compelling soundtrack. Viewers are simply left to make their own informed decision on the story and in some sense this is more powerful, because the interpretation of the film is left to the viewers, making it confronting because of its simplicity.

I, Daniel Blake is powerful social commentary that puts a human face to a number or a statistic many of us may ignore. By presenting a middle aged man who is struggling to live day to day, the film is familiar and heard of almost too often; it could become ignored or discarded by those who have heard stories of a similar nature before. Loach presents to us a story that speaks of a socio-economic problem that is not only an issue for those of low-to-middle income living in England but in other countries as well making, the film globally relevant and echoing the experiences of those dealt an unfair hand and at a disadvantage.

Perhaps struggling with technology as the title character does in the film, having difficulty in finding work even with adequate skills and experience, or the difficulty of filling out a form, means that the problem lies with the system and not the individual. Understandably, viewers are left feeling frustrated and overwhelmed by all the rules and procedures that lead to a dead end and impossible situations.

I, Daniel Blake is a brilliant and emotionally powerful piece of cinema that is worth watching because it reminds you of important social issues you may have forgotten about or unintentionally ignored. To describe the film as enjoyable is almost inappropriate and degrading because it diminishes the importance of I, Daniel Blake as a major social issue. I cannot say that I loved the film or enjoyed it because simply I felt uncomfortable to be confronted by the harsh reality represented on screen, which makes the story almost interpretable as documentary or truth.

Upon reflecting on my personal reaction to I, Daniel Blake and why I did not enjoy it, I honestly can say that not enjoying it does not diminish from the brilliance of the Loach’s film, which deservedly won this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival (2016). I think that perhaps it could be due to the discomfort felt whilst watching a film such this. It feels overwhelming how close to home the story itself is and how confronting the negative feelings are, when the usual reason for going to a cinema is to escape these feelings of negativity and helplessness. Perhaps it is selfish to say, but confronting this truthful reality is something that perhaps I cannot comprehend, because the escapism afforded to me when watching a film tends to err on the side of positivity rather than being hit with a harsh reality that continues to exist after the film has played.

I, Daniel Blake is story that presents to viewers a bleak message that repeats a problem but presents no hopeful solution to its viewer and leaves you feeling helpless. It is confronting to see good, honest people trapped by an impossible situation, dehumanised and desperate that they turn to horrid living conditions or lifestyles to make do.

Director Ken Loach confronts us with a broken social system, making viewers aware of film’s ability to criticise a broken or flawed system and making us aware of social issues that affect us all, while serving as reminder that beyond the form or the waitlist there is a human being who deserves to be treated with respect.

I, Daniel Blake is film that will hopefully exist beyond its theatrical run and become an advocate for social change, because – whether fictional or factual – films are created as representations of social issues that affect every one of us.

I, Daniel Blake is in Australian cinemas nationally November 17 and is already playing in UK cinemas.



Review by Addy Fong.