Wednesday, October 5, 2016

NYFF Spotlight: I, Daniel Blake

I’m thrilled to be covering a number of selections from the 54th Annual New York Film Festival, which takes place September 30th-October 16th.

I, Daniel Blake
Directed by Ken Loach
NYFF Screenings

There are few people anywhere who would argue that “the system” is set up to help the less fortunate. Those who are disadvantaged or experience hardship are not set up for success since they have countless hurdles to overcome in order to get the restitution that they are entitled to, and it feels doubly miserable since they are already suffering. Such stories are far from inspiring, but told in a lighthearted way, they can toe the line between drama and comedy to create an affecting and endearing narrative.

Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a widower who, after having a heart attack, has been deemed unfit to return to work by multiple doctors. During the assessment that opens the film, he is asked numerous questions about his mental state and his limbs, yet the test does not address the problem preventing him from returning to work: his heart. Denied compensation based on medical need, he is forced to look for jobs he knows he cannot accept since the only option is to collect unemployment while showing that he is actively trying to find work. In his frustrated search, Daniel meets Katie (Hayley Squires), a woman in a similar situation trying hard to support her two young children despite all forces uniting to work against her prosperity.

Daniel might be considered a curmudgeon by some, but much of his behavior, like his inability to use a computer and his relentless efforts to get his slacker neighbor to take out the trash, makes him a sympathetic older man. The kindness that he shows to Katie and her children demonstrates that he wants to be helpful in some way, and his failure to share with them why he is not currently working is surely not accidental since he wants to feel relevant and needed by someone. He wants to be there for people and give of himself in his later years.

“I, Daniel Blake” comes from director Ken Loach, who is known for making the films that he wants to make and not adjusting his work to anyone else’s expectations. “Looking for Eric” was an interesting meditation on one man’s sense of himself, and this very simple, straightforward film with no flair of any kind follows that same format. This winner of the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival is a basic presentation of a man just trying to go on existing, and it’s a stirring, involving story that feels very universal.


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