CANNES, France – Like Woody Allen Ken Loach is a Cannes-minted director, a filmmaker whose films premiere in Cannes almost exclusively. Unlike Allen, however, Loach creates consequential human dramas. In a Loach film, society’s ills play a character, Loach often training his camera on society’s invisible links, the poor, the disabled, the unemployed, people who, under the pressure of necessity, may steal a can of bean from the grocer’s or not give truthful information on a form.
Daniel Blake, played by comedian Dave Johns (follow him @davejohnscomic), is just a person. He’s a widowed carpenter who’s suffered a heart attack. A quiet man in his sixties who wears an uneasy grin-frown, he’s unable to use a computer. What he lacks in internet skills, however, he compensates richly with the right sort of demeanor: friendly and egoless.
Daniel is being put on sick leave by his doctor after the heart-related incident. He would be able to collect unemployment benefits but the government believes he’ll get disability insurance payments instead. He’s caught in a catch-22 situation and if Daniel were able, willing, to fill out forms and jump through hoops he’d probably shake the problem off. But he’s a bit disillusioned by it all and, the film shows, the way government services are in the U.K. you’d think you’re in 1985’s “Brazil.” The conclusion you’d draw, however, is simply that an internet-dumb retiree having to interact with a government administration entirely by way of the web is lost in advance. So why should he even try?
There’s a tragic, but also comical, sequence early on in the film that’s reminiscent of a Monty Python movie. Blake is made to wait on hold for an hour and a half, only to be told that he can appeal a recent refusal of his claim can only be made after someone in charge gives him the go-ahead, and no one knows when that go-ahead will be granted.
During this morning’s meeting with the press, Loach said, “It is shocking [employment and poverty] in England, it is shocking throughout Europe. The most vulnerable people are told that their poverty is their own fault. If you have no work, it’s your fault, never mind that in Britain there are nearly 2 million known unemployed, but in reality there are 4 million.”
As I attended the press conference I thought, Loach’s social-change ambitions, his militant streak needlessly takes attention away from the films. And yet, by now it’s accepted that the filmmaker and the issues he takes up are part of the same package. The director, who will turn 80 in June, has put up on a long battle to fight social inequality and deliver justice to the working classes, those people who are referred to in Thoreau’s phrase as, “the mass of men leads lives of quiet desperation.”
About the screenplay for “I, Daniel Blake” Loach commented that, “finding the right tone for a film is very important. For this one, we felt the story was so strong, that we had to be very simple, very clear, and very economical, and that it did not need any embellishment.”
On describing what the world is trying to communicate, Loach quoted Brecht: “… I always thought the simplest of words must suffice. When I say things are like, it will break the hearts of all.” Loach suggested that, the film is meant to break hearts and make people angry, too.”
On directing the cast Loach said, “It’s really easy when working with actors, they’re full of imagination, vulnerability, they have great capacity to make the moment live in a way that you [the viewer] will care about.” He added,” “we shot the story in [the story’s] order so that the actors get the script bit by bit. It should have a sense of being improvised, but the script is very precisely written. When you go back to the film and compare it to the screenplay, they’re almost identical.”