Although I’ve personally enjoyed previous Palme d’Or winners, they’re typically tough to sell to general audiences. I couldn’t tell my neighbour to sacrifice three hours for talky Turkish tale Winter Sleep, I would not dare push Michael Haneke’s Amour on my parents, and we all know where we stand on The Tree of Life. But Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake stands apart from those Cannes champions by being a brutally straightforward tragedy about everyday folk trapped in bureaucratic hell – one that reflects a frightening reality recognisable to my neighbour, my parents, and probably you.
Daniel, an older carpenter recovering from a workplace heart attack, is constantly denied a basic income due to a government-approved process that will not cater to his specific needs. Endless referrals, ridiculous quotas, goddamn automated phone messages – the banal incompetency of the system is actually played for hearty laughs at first, with stand-up comic Dave Johns giving Mr. Blake the perfect amount of sarcastic snap to his responses. But when these delays push him closer to poverty, it becomes no laughing matter.
His severe situation and common compassion lead him to Katie, a single mother of two who struggles to put food on the table in a damp and broken house that the state considers ‘liveable’. (If he can’t work for money, he’ll work to keep their walls insulated at least.) As Katie, Hayley Squires had me choking on my own heartbreak in a food bank scene that’s both casual and crushing – like an autumn leaf in a boot’s shadow.
The depressing subject matter is used to highlight human dignity and humane decency. That beauty flourishes in Daniel, Katie, and everyone in their community. It’s also nowhere to be found in the bureaucratic system that binds them. I, Daniel Blake is the common person’s masterpiece.
‘I, Daniel Blake’ Movie Times