Mixed Media: Films

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I, Daniel Blake is Ken Loach at his best. ©

I, Daniel Blake

directed and co-written by Ken Loach (100 minutes)

If you only see one film this year, see this.

As you would expect from Loach, it’s political. It’s particularly resonant as it’s about Britain today and the effects of reforms and scapegoating that we owe to a succession of ‘new’ Labour and Tory politicians. And it’s deeply moving because it conveys the personal experiences of people at the sharp end so convincingly, sensitively and poignantly.

Dave is a fifty- or sixty-something Geordie carpenter trying to get welfare payments after a heart attack. He wants to get back to work but his GP and hospital consultant tell him he’s not yet fit enough. Even so, he’s rejected for sickness benefit which, though he doesn’t know a mouse from a Mac, throws him into the torments of applying online for a jobseeker’s allowance.

Katie is a single mother from London with two kids. After two years of living in one room in a homeless hostel, she has been rehoused in Newcastle, 500 kilometres away from her family and friends. She meets Dave when they’re both ejected from the jobcentre after she’s five minutes late for an interview and he intercedes on her behalf. Dave, a widower, who’s at a loose end much of the time, helps sort out the run-down terrace house that Katie has just moved into.

This is a film of everyday pleasures – cooking, chatting to your kids, making a bookshelf. But it’s more about the pain and hurt when things aren’t right: a tile falling off the bathroom wall and smashing into pieces; your daughter mocked because her shoes have fallen apart; someone you love finding out about something that you’re ashamed of. Dave and Katie are strong characters, but one scene that comes out of the blue is almost unbearably painful.

This is Loach and writer Laverty’s best film yet – simple, sensitive, impassioned, and deeply moving and inspiring.

★★★★★ ML

The Innocents

directed and co-written by Anne Fontaine (115 minutes)

The innocent – what happens when nuns get pregnant?

In breaking morning light, nuns sing sweetly together then trudge away along a corridor, a shrouded anonymous mass. From somewhere nearby, we hear a long piercing cry of pain. A nun sneaks away, trekking through a snow-laden landscape to a hospital. One of the sisters is pregnant and struggling to give birth.

It’s Poland, 1945, and Mathilde, a Red Cross doctor and former French Resistance fighter, from a communist family, delivers the baby by Caesarean section. Six or seven other nuns are pregnant, following their rape by Russian soldiers. They react differently from Mathilde. One feels it shameful to reveal any part of her body. Another giggles when Mathilde feels her bump. The Mother Superior’s first concern is to hide the pregnancies from the world outside, and she does so at great human cost.

Fontaine’s stark, superbly crafted drama individualizes and humanizes women whose cloistered lives and dress diminish their individuality. It brings the nuns into the world and conveys a bigger social and political picture, which has parallels with today.

★★★★ ML

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