I, Daniel Blake (Blu-ray)(The Criterion Collection, 1.16.2018)
At the age of 79, a freshly un-retired Ken Loach won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for the second time in a decade with this seething look at the injustice of the British welfare state. Yet another collaboration between Loach and frequent screenwriter Paul Laverty, I, Daniel Blake makes it clear that this system simply doesn't work -- and it's apparent to everyone involved, even those who are paid to enforce the rules (and "sanctions"). Armed with a refreshingly difficult, temperamental protagonist who has the ideal personality to highlight and expose bureaucratic absurdity, this film makes a wise leap beyond simply skewering a broken system. Viewing all events through a humanist lens, Loach and Laverty lay out two very different paths for interacting with people in need: robotic detachment and open-hearted compassion. By carefully detailing the destruction of the former and the healing potential of the latter, they give this film's political perspective a depth and emotional resonance that is rare in films of this kind, even the consistently distinguished efforts of Loach and Laverty.
The Criterion Collection has only delved into Loach territory on one previous occasion -- with the excellent 2011 release of Kes, which also includes 1966's Cathy Come Home. While there are still many other Loach films deserving of the Criterion treatment, I, Daniel Blake is a good place to start, and this disc sweetens the deal with several substantial extras. In addition to a trailer, seven minutes of deleted scenes, a booklet, and a commentary by Loach and Laverty, Criterion includes a 38-minute making-of (How to Make a Ken Loach Film) and a feature length documentary from 2016 (Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach).
How to Make a Ken Loach Film offers an enlightening peek behind-the-scenes, revealing little-known aspects of Loach's process through interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. A recurring theme on this disc is Loach's unassuming demeanour -- a surprise, in light of his subversive filmmaking preferences -- and that is on intriguing display throughout this featurette. An opponent of hierarchical thinking, Loach seems happy to blend in with the extras, men and women who seem to be experiencing some of the same economic hardship as Loach's characters. In addition, several of his collaborators offer insight into the filmmaker's relationship to the documentary form, and Loach himself gives a stirring speech about "the cinema of dissent" at the Cannes Film Festival.
The most substantial extra on this disc, Versus has one major liability -- Louise Osmond's mystifying decision to frame everything in an aspect ratio (approximately 2.35:1) that forces her to crop clips from Loach's films -- but this proves to be a generally illuminating look at Loach's life and work. The director's uncompromising political spirit is apparent throughout, causing countless professional setbacks, but we also achieve a better understanding of Loach as a human being, one who experiences tragedy (he lost a son in a car accident) and joy (he acknowledges an unlikely affection for movie musicals). Like I, Daniel Blake, Versus makes it clear that Loach's passion for political filmmaking would be incomplete without his passion for people and life itself. -- Jonathan Doyle