My tears came at the exact one hour mark during I, Daniel Blake. I know because I checked my watch. And then I thought, goddamn you, Ken Loach, you know what you’re doing, don’t you?
The jury at this year’s Cannes Film Festival thought so too, awarding Loach’s 20th theatrically-released feature film the Palme D’Or in a controversial decision. I suppose it was controversial because nothing about I, Daniel Blake is groundbreaking, nor does it show any revolutionary thinking on Loach’s part. It’s a Ken Loach film through and through. But it’s a moving and very angry one, and it’s got something to scream out loud.
The scene that got me crying takes place in a food bank. Thankfully, I’ve never been in one. But thankfully, too, they exist. The scene is a masterpiece – a perfect confluence of script, direction and acting, particularly and specifically by Hayley Squires, who plays Katie, a young single mother of two befriended by Daniel Blake (UK stand-up Dave Johns), a carpenter who, after a heart attack, is finding it impossible to get out-of-work benefits from the Kafkaesque clutches of the bureacratic State. All this, of course, in a hardscrabble Northern (English) town.
Loach really rages against the machine here – emphatically, heroicly, stoicly – but the true heart of the film, the friendship between Daniel and Katie, is touching and sincere. There is also a lot of enormously good-hearted humour in the film’s first half. I saw it in a cinema full of mature citizens, and they lapped it up, laughing, cursing, and – in one small, triumphant moment – applauding.