I, Daniel Blake: NZIFF Review
That I Daniel Blake is book-ended with the voice of its titular hero is no shock.
But that its ending and beginning convey such a dichotomy of feelings is equally no surprise.
The Palme D'Or winner from Brit socialist director Ken Loach is riddled with his usual concerns and stylistic touches. This time tackling the failings of society from two singular viewpoints, Loach has once again exacerbated the increasing common human condition in a world where the state is failing those around them, and they in turn are losing their grip on humanity.
Dave Johns is the ordinary everyman widower and Newcastle resident Daniel Blake stuck in a swirling vortex of increasing lunatic bureaucracy, swimming against a tide of pencil pushers and call centre bound helpers who seem determined to break his spirit.
Set against a backdrop of a council estate where grey is the default colour setting, and recovering from a heart attack and facing the prospect of his benefit being stopped, Daniel finds he is out of touch with the world after spending umpteen years working as a carpenter.
Now faced with online forms, the incessant tide of red tape and a lack of human compassion, Blake's trip to a job centre sees him help a just-moved-to Tyneside Londoner Katie ( Hayley Squires) whose facing similar issues with benefits agencies.
A burgeoning friendship grows between the pair, but the forces of the world are conspiring against them - and despite rallying cries to each for support, this is a battle that only the state can appear to win.
Blessed with a quiet determination and a rallying fanfare for the common man and decency all round, I, Daniel Blake is a study of society teetering, albeit one that's peppered with Loach's masterful eye for humour in the absurdity of life.
Much like 2014 NZIFF entry Still Life with the wonderful Eddie Marsan, I, Daniel Blake presents a salutary look to the solitary man, doing the decent thing when the world around him conspires against him.
You'd have to be a complete Loach virgin to not know where the story is going, but its strength lies in its central performance; Johns is very much the man we all aspire to be. A good neighbour, a friend when in need and a thoroughly decent bloke, the gradual beating down of the man is the film's rallying cry and it's all the more tragic for it.
It would be easy to milk I Daniel Blake for easy wins, and Loach never takes that approach; the impending pathos of the situations as they unfold proffer unsettling parallels in the world we all currently find ourselves in. Granted, there's the protestor toward the end who unleashes a mouthful at the incumbent Tory UK government, but Loach's strength at this point is how incredibly restrained this tirade is - and how the audience would be baying for more as it plays out.
But the ultimate victory of I Daniel Blake is the central performances of the duo. Theirs is a relationship that basks in earnestness, that tries to weather the incoming storm and that provides a quiet poignancy as the denouement rumbles around.
Make no mistake though, this is a polemic of the common man through a prism of Loach - a warning and tribute of what a little dignity can achieve and a harkening back to a time when neighbours were to be treated with open arms, not viewed with suspicion and mistrust.