All work and no play

British director Ken Loach and German filmmaker Maren Ade take on work culture of our times

Veteran English filmmaker Ken Loach’s films are generally ‘icepicks to the heads of people who watch his films’. “It should not only break your heart but also make you angry” he added.

I, Daniel Blake, his latest rendering is about a skilled craftsman, who has to be out of his work due to a fall from scaffolding during his duty. The doctors advise him rest and recuperation for some more time. But the state employment service, called job centre, expects him to apply for employment to enjoy the benefit of unemployment support.

The film beautifully portrays how the call centres do not help callers but frustrate them and how online applications can be formidable for the lay users. It is not only Daniel who has to go through this pain and despair, but he is also joined by young Katie with two children, moved out of her London apartment. She is driven to food banks for their survival and has to end up as a prostitute when the state services are not of any help.

Loach called his film an “universal story of people struggling to survive. There is a conscious cruelty in the way we organise our lives.” “The state’s provision for those in desparate need and the use of bureaucracy, the intentional inefficiency of bureaucracy has become a political weapon,” he added. The film holds up how a system set up to help the poor is systematically subverted by a heartless, uncompassionate establishment. “The most vulnerable people are told that they are responsible for their poverty. If you have no job, it is your fault”.

The master filmmaker resorts to no frills, no embellishments. The locations are stark and monotone. There is tremendous economy and simplicity in narration and movement so that nothing distracts us from the main story. Loach quoted Brecht, “I always thought that the simplest of words should suffice.”

When humiliated, honest workers like Daniel who cherish their dignity, can resort to new forms of protest and may be, whither away unable to face the harshness heaped on them by the system.

While Loach paints a picture of the underdogs of the society, German filmmaker Maren Ade takes a look at how ambitious youngsters are burning their lives from both ends on their jobs.

Serious career woman Ines is always on her mobile even when she has travelled home and has no time for her father. He decides to spend time with her in Bucharest and lands up there unannounced. The retired music teacher with a yen for makeup resorts to playing bold Toni Erdmann who can be a businessman with his limo, a trainer and life coach, the German ambassador in Bucharest or a specialist in oil industry, to bring her daughter back to earth. “Toni Erdmann is born out of desperation,” Ade said. “Humour is often a way of coping with things and as such it is always also a product of pain. Humour is the only weapon and he starts using it to the hilt.”

It is not just a conflict between father and daughter but it takes on the gravity of conflict between generations. Toni manages to make her daughter realise the utter futility of her present approach to job through his comic interventions during all her important meetings and parties, in a way ripping them apart.

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