Director: Ken Loach
Cast: Dave Johns, Haley Squires
Runtime: 1 hr 40 mins
Rating: NC16 (Coarse Language)
Official Website: http://sgiff.com/browse-all-films/i-daniel-blake/
Opening Day: 3 December 2016 (Singapore International Film Festival 2016)
Synopsis: Daniel Blake (a brilliant Dave Johns) is a widowed joiner caught in a welfare quandary. Due to discrepancies in his medical evaluations, he is forced to apply for jobs he cannot accept, to remain in the benefits system. He befriends Katie, a single mother with two children in a similar predicament. Uncompromising reality is the strength of this dark-humoured polemic. Robbie Ryan’s muted cinematography features an understated sobriety that observes the characters’ downward spiral with a quiet dignity. As affecting vessels condemned by procedural indifference and social prejudice, Johns and newcomer Hayley Squires add a humanitarian urgency to Loach’s didactic yet disarmingly simple narrative. Ten years after his first win with The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006), director Ken Loach continues his acclaimed streak with this humanistic Palme d’Or winner at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.
What would you be doing when you are 80 years old? Would you still be speaking up for issues you believe in? English filmmaker Ken Loach, who is known for his socially critical directing style, is still tackling poignant themes like poverty, homelessness and labour rights in his works.
Nope, life does not work out for everyone at the end of the day.
Loach, who won the prestigious Palme d’Or for a second time at the Cannes Film Festival for his latest film, is someone we (regardless whether you are in the film industry or not) should look up to. The alma mater of St Peter’s College in Oxfordis now one of the nine filmmakers around the world who have been award the prize twice in the film’s 69 year history (he previously won for the 2006 war drama The Wind that Shakes the Barley).
What we love about Loach’s latest film is that it isn’t an angry piece of work. The 100 minute movie manages to move at a sparing pace, and presents day to day life events that are seemingly inconsequential – until you realise there is an urgency to address these issues.
The protagonist Daniel Blake is a middle aged carpenter who has to find ways to survive the British welfare state after suffering a heart attack. On top of being unable to work, he has to figure our how the system works with state officials, Internet technology, validation tests and incomprehensible forms. He meets a single mother and her two children, and the group find solace in each other’s existence.
English stand up comedian Dave Johns is perfectly cast as Daniel Blake – you will feel for the character as he trudges his way around the bureaucratic maze. You laugh with him, cry with him and want to be there for him. English actress and playwright Hayley Squires also shines as the single mother in the movie. Watch out for a heartbreaking scene in a food bank where she breaks down, overcome by hunger.
As the film progresses, you also realise that it is about a beautiful friendship between two people who find each other at the worst moments in life. The tenderness in approaching this story is apt, and while the film may seem simple and easy to watch, there is a much deeper realisation to be felt when the lights come on.
Reviewed by John Li at the 27th Singapore International Film Festival