Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Festival Opens with Moving, Funny, Relevant Tale

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Festival Opens with Moving, Funny, Relevant Tale

Article excerpt

British director Ken Loach has never been interested in Hollywood - and vice versa. In the tradition of Tony Richardson's Angry Young Man films of the '50s and '60s, his style is social realism and his concern is for the working class. In American terms, he is a sort of kinder, gentler Michael Moore.

Now, at the tender age of 80, Mr. Loach and his powerful new film "I, Daniel Blake" have won Cannes' most recent Palme d'Or award. It screens Thursday to kick off this year's Carnegie Mellon University International Film Festival.

The feisty title character is a hard-working carpenter, who has spent his life on the job in gritty Newcastle-on-Tyne until sidelined by a heart attack and forced to apply for government relief to survive. Profane and short-tempered, Daniel's run-ins with nameless "decision-makers" involve an endless cycle of paperwork, on-hold phone waits, useless workshops and humiliating interrogations including his bowel movement activity.

"Listen," he finally explodes, "I've had a major heart attack. I wanna get back to work. Now, please, can we talk about me heart? Forget about me arse."

The Catch-22 nature of the process puts Joseph Heller's to shame. But in the course of it, Daniel (Dave Johns) encounters single mother Katie (Hayley Squires) and her two kids, caught up in their own Kafkaesque version of it - the invisible barbed wire of Britain's welfare system. They're seriously hungry. She is caught shoplifting. "I'm going under," she quietly laments. A mutually supportive friendship blooms, as does Daniel's relationship with her soulful little girl, Daisy (Briana Shann).

The performances are superb - naturalistic and semi-improvisational, befitting Mr. Johns' prior career as a stand-up comedian and Ms. Squires' as a stage actress and playwright. Even some of the bureaucrats are sympathetic, such as kindly Ann (Kate Rutter), and you'll love Daniel's great black neighbor, China (Kema Sikazwe), who games the system by Skyping with people in real China. …

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