Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Ken Loach Wins Palm D’Or with I, Daniel Blake.

with 7 comments

Palme D’or Triumph for the Daniel Blakes of the Whole World. 

Some good news, at last.

Ken Loach has won the Palme d’or at Cannes for I, Daniel Blake.

“Daniel Blake is a 59-year-old joiner in the North-East of England who falls ill and requires state assistance for disability from the Employment and Support Allowance. While he endeavours to overcome the red tape involved in getting this assistance, he meets single mother Katie who, in order to escape a homeless persons’ hostel, must take up residence in a flat 300 miles (480 km) away.”

France 24 reports,

The 79-year-old Briton attacked the “dangerous project of austerity” as he accepted the festival’s top prize from actor Mel Gibson and Mad Max creator George Miller, who headed this year’s jury. “The world we live in is at a dangerous point right now. We are in the grip of a dangerous project of austerity driven by ideas that we call neo-liberalism that have brought us to near catastrophe,” Loach said, adding: “We must give a message of hope, we must say another world is possible.”

And, he continued, “Necessary”.

Le Monde’s review noted that ‘welfare reform’ forms the heart of the film. That in the UK there is a veritable ‘crusade’ against the disabled, to root out those feigning illness (“la chasse aux tire-au-flanc a pris les allures d’une croisade) in a “néo-victorienne” Britain.

Moi, Daniel Blake n’est pas une satire d’un système absurde. Ken Loach n’est pas un humoriste, c’est un homme en colère, et le parcours de l’ouvrier privé de travail et de ressources est filmé avec une rage d’autant plus impatiente qu’elle est impuissante.

I, Daniel Blake, is not a satire about an absurd system. Ken Loach is not a humourist, he’s full of anger, and the progress a worker without a job, and without assets, is filmed with an indignation that is as exasperated  as it is impotent.

This Blog is not an uncritical admirer of Ken Loach. He is against austerity and for social rights, the cause of the left.  But his more specific politics, which include a lengthy membership of Respect and support for the cultural Boycott of Israel, as well as no known activity against Islamist genociders, or support for the Kurdish people in their fight for dear life against ISIS,  are not always the same as ours.

Nor are all of Loach’s films, for all of their skill and intensity, always as deep as they set out to be.

Of the most recent The Angels’ Share (2012) is amusing but slight tale of Scottish scamps. It is not free, for all its would-be irony, of whatever the Caledonian equivalent of Oirishness is,. The Spirit of ’45 (2013) may seem a strangely uncritical account of the post-war Labour government. Jimmy’s Hall  is a fine story set in the Irish Free state. But it is straining things for this emssage to pass, ” The behaviour of the state’s police is shown and explained to be occurring at a time when Stalin was in full control of the Soviet Union and it is obvious that the state and church are fearful of forces that threaten to destroy them. It is this tension between the ideals of Christianity and the fear of the church and its natural tendency to be reactionary that is the central issue that the film explores.”

It can still be argued that the trio have strong narrative coherence, and, in the case of Jimmy’s Hall, insights into the history of republicans, and the left, in the Irish Free State, and the characters swept up in the struggle for independence, the civil war,  and their fate in in the aftermath, as well as cinematique beauty.

Loach will, nevertheless, be remembered for Poor Cow, Kes, Land and Freedom, and smaller, less technically polished, but robust films such as Raining Stones, Riff Raff and the Navigators, which demonstrate that ‘social realism’ is not always worthy but unwatchable didacticism, and Bread and Roses, which shows politically engaged drama at its best.

That said by tackling head-on the effects of the ‘reform’ of the British Welfare state I, Daniel Blake, hits at a sensitive nerve, and, frankly, righteous indignation is an emotion that’s widely shared about this. Its tale of people pushed from pillar to post,  has been compared to Loach’s exposee of homelessness in the 1966 television play Cathy Come Home ,

The Minister in charge of the system of oppression bearing down on Daniel Blake, Iain Duncan Smith, is now a leading Brexit campaigner.

Appropriately Loach stands on the other side of the European Referendum debate,  the solution is ultimately voting to stay. “we need to “make alliances with other European left movements”.

The film is a worthy successor to last year’s winner, the riveting, Dheepan,directed by Jacques Audiard.

Sivadhasan is a Tamil Tiger soldier during the last days of the Sri Lankan Civil War. After the armed conflict resolves, his side loses and he is forced to move to a refugee camp. There he decides to move to France to take a fresh chance at life. However, in order to secure political asylum, he requires a convincing cover story. He is given the passport of a dead man, Dheepan, and pairs with people he barely knows posing as his family. Along with his supposed wife, Yalini and his supposed 9-year-old daughter, Illayaal, they get on a ship bound for Paris. Upon arrival, he lands a job as a resident caretaker and starts building a new life in a housing project in Le Pré-Saint-Gervais, a northeastern suburb of Paris, which turns out to be another conflict zone for him.

I saw Dheepan only a few weeks ago.

One hopes that Loach’s picture will not take so long to get to our screens.


Written by Andrew Coates

May 23, 2016 at 11:10 am

7 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Very good overview of Loach’s ‘oeuvre’. Got shown ‘Kes’ in school in the 1970s. Can you imagine the fuss today if a teacher showed ‘I, Daniel Blake’?

  2. Clive Bradley’s 1997 piece on the contradictions between ‘art’ and ‘propaganda’ in Loach’s work: https://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2016/05/23/loach-honoured-at-cannes-a-critical-appreciation/

    Jim Denham

    May 23, 2016 at 4:17 pm

  3. Chris Bradly is absolutely right in a very solid critique

    If I were to go into the number of things wrong, off-kilter, dramatically ill-judged, and simply fatuous about Land and Freedom I’d be here for the rest of the day.

    I’d simply add to Chris’s comments that in that film Loach shows little awareness of the real activists and ideas of the POUM, or the (complex) anarchist movement from the CNT to FAI (the latter in Catalonia given some life in Max Aube’s El laberinto mágico of which Field of Honour, is translated https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Aub)

    He seems to use them purely as symbols of the international conflict with Stalinism – which is not only historically false but deeply insulting to people with deep roots and courage on the Iberian left and individuals for whom many of us feel profound long-term empathy.

    I had forgotten Carla’s Song, mercifully.

    It is claimed that Loach was close to the WRP in the early 1970s, in which case an ‘Orthodox’ Trotskyist version of socialist realism might explain a lot.

    Andrew Coates

    May 23, 2016 at 5:06 pm

  4. Maybe I don’t entirely understand what “the cultural boycott of Israel” means. But I don’t see anything wrong with — for example — Elvis Costello refusing to play concerts in Israel until the Israeli state starts treating Palestinians as full human beings. What’s wrong with that kind of cultural boycott?


    May 23, 2016 at 8:48 pm

  5. Reblogged this on Redvince's Weblog.


    May 24, 2016 at 8:08 am

  6. In the abstract there’s nothing in principle wrong with a artists and musicians choosing not to appear in Israel as a protest against the treatment of Palestinians: but the BDS movement goes well beyond that: it seeks to delegitimise Israel and, quite knowingly and deliberately, calls into question its very right to exist. The sight of Israeli musicians and theatre groups being picketed, heckled and disrupted leaves a nasty taste in the mouth and – to put it mildly – verges on anti-Semitism.

    Jim Denham

    May 24, 2016 at 8:31 am

  7. Andrew Coates

    May 24, 2016 at 11:44 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: