I, Daniel Blake
Stating your own name. This simple action opens and closes Ken Loach’s latest film, as if the workers at the heart of the English director’s oeuvre had nothing else left.
Daniel Blake has the first name of a prophet and the last name of the visionary poet and engraver from the 18th Century. Despite appearances he’s a sweet man, and trustworthy like the wood he’s worked his entire life. Forced into inactivity due to a heart condition, he’s trapped in the absurd mechanisms of health insurance: in a waiting room he meets a young mother, and help turns into friendship. The health care system the two have to deal with is almost Kafkaesque, except that in the Prague writer’s mind forms and personnel-less offices were an end in themselves, whereas subcontracting health insurance to external agencies is a clear attempt, on the city administration’s part, to leave out all those who are not caught up with the times.
Boasting a watertight script by frequent collaborator Paul Laverty, the film offers a 21st Century descent into Hell, where all the small certainties we obtain step by step – a house, furniture, clothes – fall part. Facing an over-the-top story, Loach works on understatement, asking his actors to hold back all the rage and pain that will explode at the right moment. Even the mise-en-scène is admirably sober: after all, it’s the way Loach observes and presents his characters to us that makes heroes in spite of everything – they’re people we want to admire, hug and defend. To the extent that the titular “I” becomes a more reassuring “We”, once we’re out of the cinema and dealing with life.