Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Movie Review: I, DANIEL BLAKE

In the aftermath of a heart attack, Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) finds himself unable to work as the carpenter he has been for forty years because his doctor says he is not to get back to work at the moment. Unfortunately and surreally for him, the state has declined to give him a health welfare so without the help of anyone, Daniel has to manage to get his welfare back.

Having sadly never experienced a Ken Loach film before going in (he is one of the directors I still need to catch up on), I really did not know what to expect going in, all I new was that this film had won the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. What I came out with was a deeply satisfying human drama, with incredible sensibility and delicacy in handling a situation that demands to be treated so.

Ken Loach is definitely a filmmaker I will look into after this: his world is as simple and as close to reality as it is possible to achieve in this medium, yet it is filled with a wide range of emotions, all of which the viewer manages to come close to. This is a film where the small moments of life, where the everyday gesture or decision bears a weight to character and story and when higher dramatic stakes come into play, they manage to keep that realistic and grounded feel to the tone of the world, whilst still managing to hit the gut of the audience and touch them, without ever tripping into melodramatic or sentimental territory.

The techniques employed to tell this story are just as simple as the story itself and that is what makes them as effective as they are. This is a textbook example of how to reflect the content of a story through the medium with which you tell it. Interestingly enough, though both story and storytelling are kept as laid-back as possible, the stakes the viewer experiences are kept at a very high level and that is again thanks to the effectiveness of Loach's filmmaking throughout the whole film.

Firstly, half of the job is done in casting here. The two lead roles are cast perfectly and there are no other words for it. From the way the actors look, the innocence they manage to convey from their sole presence, to the fact that they are both two widely unknown faces, and ultimately to the performances they deliver in which both actors have to touch highs and lows of emotions, yet they never go for a showy performance and stick perfectly to the tone of the overall picture, touching those extremes with incredible subtlety and remarkable physical work.

Furthermore, how the film is shot and edited just makes the most sense it could. The camera is rarely moving and if it is, it is only slightly and slowly moving, without ever shifting its focus in the same shot. Loach favors wider angle shots where all the action takes place and spares the editing for the most important parts which is fittingly done in the most straightforward way possible, in order not to needlessly distract neither the audience nor the character action. The result is a film where we enter the characters space and get know them very intimately. We grow to care about these people almost instantly and get behind their struggle, we experience their difficulties with them. The filter of film is almost removed from the audience, this is a feature where you truly get close to the dramatic arc, yet most interestingly the tone and intention of the film is to stay grounded and real. So what you end up with isn't an epic journey or a classical drama of big moments: it is a portrayal of real life that gives you an inner look into what is a reality that you have no hesitation in believing and getting sucked into.

If anything, the film has problems only when trying to convey its message which might come out wrong at times because of how the state department is sometimes, and only sometimes portrayed. One might say that this is reality and this is how mad things actually are, but since this is a film I have to admit that our characters were being given a little too much of a hard time at times by people who seemed like one dimensional a**holes, who didn't really belong in a film where reality and its complications are given such a dignified portrayal. Thematically it really undercuts a film that is trying to say something and it succeeds in doing it very frequently, but, without wanting to spoil anything, how some of the events unfold and how some of the secondary characters are treated, especially in the second half, deviate some of the more powerful and effective themes I was gravitating towards, in favor of social (and government) commentary that, other than being cheap and ineffective, undermines what is for the rest a beautiful and moving picture about the complexities of living and ultimately a portrayal of poverty and middle and lower class that is respectful, moving and honest as very few films have ever managed to be.

James's Score: 8/10

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