Another Strange Path: I, DANIEL BLAKE (Loach, 2015)

Easily the best movie I’ve seen all season is I, Daniel Blake (Loach, 2015), my first at the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto (which in many ways has the feel of a second Cinémathèque).

Much like the Dardennes’ Deux jours, une nuit (2014), the protagonist, a 59-year old carpenter from Newcastle, is desperate to sustain an income. Eventually, he finds himself on the edge of precarity. Along the way, he meets a young mother of two from London. We find ourselves in a “strange path” narrative, which I name after Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket (1959) and its oft-cited final line, “O Jeanne, to reach you at last, what a strange path I had to take.” Movies such as Pickpocket, I, Daniel Blake, The Master (Anderson, 2012), and Paterson (Jarmusch, 2016) are tales of winding paths, chance encounters, and unexpected coupling. I, Daniel Blake is as touching and “real” an interpretation of the strange path as you’ll find, where two souls who would otherwise pass each other by on the street become co-dependent in their economic vulnerability.

The film is sparse–I counted only two brief passages that rely on a non-diegetic background score–but look out for the timing of the fades-to-black. They stand out, drawing attention to style itself. Reminiscent of the elliptical transitions in Bresson’s Les Dames du bois de Boulogne (1945) and Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), Daniel Blakes‘ fades function as overt, even mildly disruptive structuring devices. They do much more than signal the passage of time. They manage our affective responses and our access to story information, enriching the experience.