I, Daniel Blake ★★★½

Every Palme d'Or winner comes with its own set of expectations and last year's winner of Cannes Film Festival's highest honour is no different. Now I, Daniel Blake may not seem most worthy of all the films that competed for the prestigious award but the topic it brings to light with such alarming authenticity not only makes it an essential cinema but timely as well.

The story of I, Daniel Blake follows its titular character who applies for state welfare after suffering a heart attack but isn't deemed eligible for the benefits. The plot covers his difficult journey as he navigates through the nightmarish benefits system to get what's within his rights as a citizen and also focuses on his bonding with a single mother caught in a similar scenario.

Directed by Ken Loach, this is my first stint with his works and it's as good a start as any for those wishing to delve into his filmography. The close proximity its set of events maintain with real life scenario throughout its runtime makes it relatable on a universal scale and it's directed with grace, elegance & a biting flair, all kept in equilibrium by its sharp, zany & involving script.

The critical stance it takes against the welfare system is more aimed at the nonsensical procedures that make the whole process more complex & frustrating for the clients, and while it only depicts a certain demographic, the struggle that results from such service is perceivable to all. It has its amusing moments but the sense of despair & disillusionment is evident at all times.

With no score to accompany, no striking camerawork or unorthodox editing, the emphasis remains on its story & characters, and while Loach does a terrific job at handling the story element, the cast bring its scripted people to life with credence. Leading from the front is Dave Johns as Daniel Blake and he's finely supported by Hayley Squires who manages to steal a few moments all by herself.

On an overall scale, I, Daniel Blake is a stimulating piece of smart storytelling that's as endearing as it is heartbreaking. Bringing to surface an issue that has gradually become a matter of concern yet often goes unnoticed in the grand scheme of things, it is an excellently directed, deftly scripted & aptly performed drama that's carefully handled, comfortably told & is engaging for the most part. Thoroughly recommended.

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