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I, Daniel Blake

Updated on August 16, 2017

A few months ago I went to watch I, Daniel Blake, the latest film by Ken Loach about today's staleness of bureaucracy and its officers. As the protagonist was again framed in a Job Centre's open plan waiting room, a fire alarm went off in the cinema and we had to wait in the designated area for the fire brigades and the cinema personnel to re-establish safety. Then, an usher escorted us back in the cinema from the fire exit door.

Now, I am thinking of the title of the film after I read a review by the Italian film critic Goffredo Fofi, and I will try to put some thoughts together about it. The "I" of I, Daniel Blake makes the protagonist objective, the "I" of the "citizen" which has lost respect from democratic governments. Not the proletarian, the citizen.

Ken Loach's film won the Palm d'Or in Cannes. Sometimes the juries of Cannes festival (always rich and famous) save their souls or pretend to have a soul. They hypocritically appreciate social commentary because they know we live during hard times therefore, awarding who speak for the sufferers is part of the game; they know that demagogy and populism help confirming who is in power, instead of attacking who is in power. The Belgian Dardenne brothers are also often awarded in Cannes for the same reasons as Loach. Loach knows well, like the Dardennes, how to modify a formula which has found consensus amongst audiences and critic. He learned the craft in the 60s. Kes and Poor Cow are arguably his best films, those desolate pictures black and white even when in colour. Those films were inspired by the great tradition of British workers' enquiries, by the anti-psychiatry movement of Laing and David Cooper, by the British social documentary school (Humphrey Jennings) which became, in the 50s and 60s, docu-drama and became radical thanks to the 'free cinema' of Reisz, Anderson, Richardson who were then absorbed by the dominant commercial system. Loach knows this, and he knows how to be smarter than them between political commitment and career, between political convictions and commercial success. Loach demonstrates that, within the British left, it is still present a strong care for the working class and its culture. Loach not always convinces me, especially when he tackles crucial issues with a certain reductive rapidity. He never was a Orwell or even a Engels, but he always knew how to face changes, through his able mix of social ethics and commercial intuition. His films are almost always written by Paul Laverty, who was a lawyer. In their movies, the "lawyery" aspect is clear: they are 'indictment films'. They are perfectly informed about the people they narrate, about the mechanics of a classist society. In particular, in I, Daniel Blake, they are perfectly informed about the heaviness of bureaucracy and its officers, who serve the law to the point of becoming themselves persecutors of who they should serve. This film defends the interests of who is being squashed by bureaucracy, of who is the victim of these mechanics, workers, women and children. The friendship between Daniel and Katie is at the heart of the film. It doesn't mean love for "the other", nor it means care of somebody else's pain. It means solidarity amongst victims, amongst the oppressed, amongst the poor, like in the 1800: this is the point from which Ken Loach knows well we must, and we can, restart. The ending is desperate. The endings of neo-realist films (I am thinking of Umberto D. by De Sica) used to always leave us with some hope, according to a precise ideology coming from the writer Cesare Zavattini. Today this hope seems disappeared, and what it remains is a struggle to survive (just like the 1800, just like the times of Darwin) and to defend yourself from an enemy state. There is a lot of 'lawyery' stuff in this film and in the entire work of Ken Loach, and some suspicion of a actually rhetorical 'lawyery' tradition. Loach's direction is traditional, well done, the result of a neat packaging. Loach definitely does not contribute to progressing the so called cinematic art. But we do need more of those lawyers! Keep strong, Ken. We cannot not be grateful, very grateful to you.

© 2017 Massimo Salvato


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