There are few certainties at Cannes. But one of them is that British veteran Ken Loach will get an ovation for any new film he cares to put before us. The last time he was at Cannes with Jimmy’s Hall, he announced that he was giving up feature films to concentrate on documentaries. But I, Daniel Blake, has proved that now he is approaching 80, he is entitled to change his mind.
Daniel Blake is a 59-year-old Newcastle joiner and carpenter who suddenly has a heart attack and is thus thrown on the mercy of the welfare state. It is not an easy process. A healthcare professional strips him of the disability benefit his doctor recommends and he has to claim jobseeker’s allowance instead, even though he can’t work. At the benefit office, he meets Katie, the mother of two young children who has been forced to leave her single room in London in order to get a flat in Newcastle. Furious at the unfairness of it all, Blake gets evicted from the premises and a friendship ensues which is firmed up at a food bank later on. There, at last, some kindness reaches the desperate pair. At least somebody cares.
Clearly, of course, Loach and Paul Laverty, his now regular screenwriter, care too. But they have been careful not to make too angry and one-sided a film. There is humour there too, and a dramatic ending when Blake and Katie quarrel over her work as an escort. Above all, the performances are terrific. Dave Johns and Hayley Squires carry I, Daniel Blake throughout. If the film isn’t exactly Loach’s very best work, it is certainly one which will please almost everybody who sees it. Already many territories have a been sold, and there will undoubtedly be more to follow.
There is rather less to commend the other British film in competition—Andrea Arnold’s American Honey. Prized at Cannes for both Red Road and Fish Tank, her first largely American film seems a considerable regression. It has Sasha Lane as a young woman who joins a noisy gang of teens travelling across the Midwest selling magazine subscriptions. Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough are the more experienced members of the cast and there is little doubt that the best thing about the film is their feeling for their parts. This is at least piece about teens you can readily believe in.
The worst facet of the movie is its more than two and a half hours length. At times, the editing seems almost non-existent. Nor does the drama of American Honey amount to much. Nothing much happens that hasn’t happened in the story before. Still, the lively playing is something. But it is never quite enough.