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‘I, Daniel Blake’ Reviews: Ken Loach’s Surprise Palme d’Or Winner Receives Mixed Reactions from Cannes

'I, Daniel Blake' Reviews: Ken Loach's Surprise Palme d'Or Winner Receives Mixed Reactions from Cannes

The Cannes Film Festival awards have been announced, with the jury led by George Miller delivering two major surprises: Xavier Dolan’s “It’s Only the End of the World” won the Grand Prix (second prize) after being utterly thrashed by critics, while Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake” has taken home the Palme d’Or. It’s the 79-year-old’s second time winning the festival’s top prize after 2006’s “The Wind That Shakes the Barley.” Indiewire’s own Eric Kohn deems the film Loach’s best in years, giving it a B and calling it “a touching story that would seem altogether familiar if weren’t also loaded with urgency.”

READ MORE: Cannes 2016: Complete List of This Year’s Winners

David Rooney is similarly kind to the film, though his Hollywood Reporter review notes that “Daniel Blake” isn’t without its flaws: Paul Laverty’s script, writes Rooney, “at times wades into didactic pandering, hammering home in dialogue points about a callous State that are already embedded in the story. The tendency to pile indignation upon indignation almost risks nudging the drama onto a righteous soapbox.” Even so, he concludes, the film “feels entirely of the moment in a time of increasing attention to income inequality as the divide between the haves and have-nots becomes a dangerous chasm.”

Writing for Variety, Owen Gleiberman sings Loach’s praises even more loudly: “The quiet beauty of ‘I, Daniel Blake’ — the reason it’s the rare political drama that touches the soul — is that we believe, completely, in these people standing in front of us, as Ken Loach and the actors have imagined them. And when the movie ends, we feel like we won’t forget them.” The English auteur is a longtime mainstay of the festival, having also won the Jury Prize for 2012’s “The Angels’ Share.”

Peter Bradshaw gives the director’s latest four stars (out of a possible five) in The Guardian, where he writes that it “is indeed flawed, I would concede. There are a couple of very big scenes, probably too big, and I saw the ending coming 20 minutes before the movie begins.” He too ends on a positive note despite his reservations, arguing that “Daniel Blake” “intervenes in the messy, ugly world of poverty with the secular intention of making us see that it really is happening, and in a prosperous nation, too. ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is a movie with a fierce, simple dignity of its own.”

READ MORE: Cannes Review: Why ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is Ken Loach’s Best Movie in Years

David Jenkins isn’t as forgiving in his Little White Lies review. “As usual for Loach,” he contends, “this is cinema as a blunt instrument, used to hit hard and without much grace or sense of direction. It’s a largely artless work which takes no risks with its visual language and never thinks to show when it can tell.” Ultimately, Jenkins says, this is “a film which talks exclusively to the people who are already on side with everything it has to say.”

Though positive overall, critical reactions don’t point to “I, Daniel Blake” as having been a favorite among reviewers at Cannes; Maren Ade’s “Toni Erdmann” and Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson,” both of which were shut out of the awards ceremony entirely, appear to hold that distinction this year. A similar divide was felt last year with “Dheepan,” Jacques Audiard’s Palme d’Or winner that likewise received a lukewarm critical reaction.

For more from Cannes, watch the trailer for “Café Society”:

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