Ken Loach, rebel with a cause

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Loach in 1990

Ken Loach, a rebel, is my kind of man. Here in Europe, the British film director is an icon. Deeply political and socialist-minded, Loach has twice won the Palme d’Or, the highest honor, at the Cannes film festival. He has also won a multitude of other cinematic awards. The French love him, probably because there is no French equivalent. 

Few filmmakers bring to life social issues as vividly as Ken Loach. In June of this year, he was at Cannes promoting his latest film I, Daniel Blake, a social-realist drama about a disabled carpenter struggling with the red tape of the welfare benefits system. 

I, Daniel Blake review: Ken Loach’s welfare state polemic is blunt, dignified and brutally moving

“There are shades of Dickens and Orwell in this emphatic real-life drama.”

The film, titled in French, Moi, Daniel Blake, came out last Wednesday in France.

Loach’s film positions itself in the middle of the eating-or-heating dilemma: the story of a fictional benefits claimant called Daniel Blake, a skilled laborer and carpenter who can’t work following a heart attack.

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Loach today

“If you’re not angry,” Loach says, “what kind of person are you?”

In many ways, I, Daniel Blake can be seen as a companion piece to Cathy Come Home, Loach’s seminal 1966 film about a young family’s descent into homelessness, which resulted in a parliamentary debate and raised public awareness of homelessness. But while Cathy led to real social change, Loach predicts people will not be outraged by Daniel: they will accept it as normal that a once-working man should be cheated out of benefits by the state, or that a young single mother should move from London to Newcastle (in north-east England) to find herself a scrap of a home.

A marvellous humanity shines through the film when Daniel befriends the young single mother and her two kids. They form a front against the callous, punitive agents of the Jobs and Benefits Offices.

Classic Loach territory is exploitation, the indignity of unemployment, and the resilience and humor of working-class people. This subject matter should also resonate in the USA…and in all countries for that matter.

I myself have been on the dole more than once in France (dole that my salary contributed to when I was working.) Luckily, unemployment benefits are generous here and last for a longer time: two years. Three years if you’re over 50.

Here’s a clip from this “luminous” film:

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