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I Daniel makes a powerful statement

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Even in desperate situations, kindness abounds
by Alan Charlton

In cinemas throughout the Lower Mainland


Photo Caption: Hayley Squires and Dave Johns interact in a scene from I, Daniel Blake. Alan Charlton writes, the film “becomes a powerful and moving statement about the plight of the poor and the unemployed.” (Courtesy BBC Films)


Films touting a political agenda can often be fraught with preachiness or a bias that renders them invalid. However, Ken Loach, the great British director, has managed largely to avoid such pitfalls, with the result that I, DANIEL BLAKE becomes a powerful and moving statement about the plight of the poor and the unemployed.

What is even more remarkable is that, though the film is clearly aimed at the British social welfare system, it has an all-too-great relevance here in Canada.

I, DANIEL BLAKE focuses on a 59-year-old carpenter who suffers a heart attack and is ruled unfit to work by his doctor. The agency in charge of his case has determined that he is in fact able to go to work and insists that he must apply for jobs in order to obtain financial assistance.

Thus, the film to a great extent shows the complexities facing a person caught up in the red tape of officialdom.

Daniel, with only a simple cell phone and no computer skills, attempts to navigate the torrents of bureaucracy. In a series of sadly comical episodes that have a decidedly Kafkaesque quality to them, he goes from interview to interview, attempts to navigate the difficulties of on-line form filling, and slowly comes to the conclusion that social services are set up with the main purpose of humiliating him.

Side by side with this narrative is another that involves Katie, a young single mother of two and further victim of the system. Although her family and support group are in London, her application of housing assistance results in her being transferred to Newcastle where is cheaper.

While she understands this, her inability to support herself and her children result in forlorn despair, only relieved by Daniel’s attempts to help her. Unfortunately, this storyline is marred by a poorly developed and unnecessarily lurid complication that remains unresolved. It is the only flaw in an otherwise flawless film, which was awarded the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

I, DANIEL BLAKE is a film of compassion and gentleness. While it is satirical in its depiction of an inhuman system, it balances this with a portrait of a society that can be caring and understanding. Daniel and Katie constantly encounter kindness from strangers, whether at a grocery store where Katie in desperation shoplifts some articles, at a food bank, or applying for work in places where there is none.

Writer Paul Laverty clearly shows the ordinary person on the street really does want to help the poor, the unemployed, the people in need; the problem is government agencies appointed to act on behalf of the needy simply become involved in organizational procedures that, in their determination to be responsible, become cumbersome and ineffective.

I, DANIEL BLAKE remains a truly moving and involving film, its serious concerns dealt with humourously without in any way blunting the edge of the satire. The dialogue always rings true, so that the film takes on an almost documentary authenticity while the performances throughout add to the total impact of the whole.

It may be (and hopefully is) that the Canadian social welfare system works somewhat better, yet as we look at our province in which one child in five lives in poverty, where food banks have become a growing norm, and where many are forced into homelessness, one wonders if enough is being done.

At the same time, it is apparent that many wish to help as is evident from the ongoing support for charities such as Covenant House and The Door is Open testify.

In any case, whether as social comment or simply as a wonderfully made film, it is a film everyone should see.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 June 2017 11:31  

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