'I, Daniel Blake' battles bureaucratic absurdity
By Diane Carson
British director Ken Loach is one of those rare filmmakers who infuses absorbing narratives with a sharp social critique. Never strident, periodically interjecting comic relief, he makes his points while watching characters' lives unfold casually, naturally. This is exactly what he does in I, Daniel Blake as Dan, pursuing governmental eligibility for a support allowance, gets caught in bureaucratic madness.
Dan has survived a heart attack and, while waiting for his doctor's permission to return to work, which he's eager to do, he attempts to qualify for assistance. As opening credits appear on the screen, in voiceover Dan answers the ludicrous questions of Amanda, who is, as she describes herself twice, "a health care professional." It's both amusing and appalling as Dan tries to maintain his composure, assuring Amanda he can find the top of his head to put a hat on, set an alarm clock, and use a telephone keypad. He does struggle as he gamely tries to learn computer skills which, he says, "drive me mental."
What gives I, Daniel Blake emotional, even visceral impact is that most of us have faced some measure of such bureaucratic, inhumane absurdity. In another interview scene, when a compassionate clerk steps up to help, her supervisor chastises her. As Dan observes, they "will make it as miserable as possible so you give up," further noting that "when you lose your self respect, you're done for." He buoys his and others' resolve by helping, a resourceful neighbor and later Katie whom he encounters during another office encounter. She and her two children have fewer resources than Dan, and he pitches in. Developments include heartbreaking and tragic moments, though Dan always fights on, with humor and compassion.
As Daniel Blake, Dave Johns gives a performance the equal of the best every man asserting his dignity in the face of disgraceful treatment. As Katie, Hayley Squires complements Daniel's moods and deeply appreciates his help as she despairs. Paul Laverty's screenplay depicts the frustrating confrontations with organizational inflexibility and those at its mercy. Some on-the-street location work adds authenticity with its urban backdrop. I, Daniel Blake dramatically and poignantly makes its case for a kinder, more intelligent approach to and for all. At Landmark's Tivoli Cinema.