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TRIBECA 2024

Recensione: Kneecap

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- Il debutto nel lungometraggio di Rich Peppiatt è un racconto contagioso dell'ascesa del gruppo rap in lingua irlandese del titolo

Recensione: Kneecap
sx-dx: Liam Óg Ó Hannaidh, J.J. Ó Dochartaigh e Naoise Ó Cairealláin in Kneecap

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Move out the way! The film equivalent of a profane diss track, Kneecap suggests the best strategy to honour cultural heritage is potentially the wrong or antisocial way. Referencing Eminem’s 8 Mile, made at the height of the Detroit rapper’s cultural relevance, in having the stars incarnate themselves in their own fictionalised biopic, but resembling Trainspotting far more in its peppy execution, Rich Peppiatt’s debut feature tracks the exponential rise of the eponymous rap group, their Irish lyrical language matched by the majority of the film’s spoken dialogue. It premiered to noticeable buzz at Sundance, with its festival journey landing it at Tribeca this week.

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In a commendable manner, Peppiatt (who’s of Irish descent, but grew up in the UK and was formerly a tabloid journalist) balances familiar references that will please insiders, whilst also accommodating viewers far less informed on Northern Ireland’s post-Troubles culture; still, this can make Kneecap’s music seem more like an unlikely novelty – “a group that raps in Irish Gaelic?”, and so on – than something that might engender great identification for a subculture, in turn influencing behaviours and even other music. The trigger for the group’s ascent comes when founding members Naoise Ó Cairealláin and Liam Óg Ó Hannaidh link up with JJ Ó Dochartaigh, a local school music teacher; Naoise is arrested and will only converse in Irish in the interrogation room, which is where JJ shows up in his secondary job as an interpreter. The latter spots the former’s written journal full of rhymes and song scraps in the course of their interview, tracks him down outside this law-and-order situation, and breakbeat and body-rockin’ history is then made.

Two accompanying elements simmer in the background. First, a public campaign is under way for the recognition of Irish as one of the UK nation’s official languages, in spite of its extremely low population of speakers; in script terms, this is helpfully spearheaded by JJ’s spouse Caitlin (Fionnuala Flaherty). And despite the sectarian conflict’s cooler temperature at present, we have republican soldiers still at large, incarnated by Naoise’s estranged father Arlo (Michael Fassbender, kindly lending A-lister status), and the satellite criminal gangs whose tradition of kneecapping (Google it if you dare) is referenced in the rap group’s punk-ish moniker.

What’s ultimately convincing about this film, providing the patina of cultural importance that surely swayed all of its public UK and Éire backers, is how unafraid and uncensored it is about all of Kneecap the group’s provocations, linking to how hip-hop globally and in its short history lives in the interstices of many similar trigger points. Their lyrical content celebrates Belfast thug life and drug life: dealing and using, with attendant references to gang warfare and violence. It’s the bogeyman to all disapproving conservative forces, yet it also provides the representation and youth engagement that public proponents of the Irish language and its nationalist heritage are seeking. If Irish has more vitality and popular sway over trap beats, instead of folk lyrics and fiddles, so it will endure, Peppiatt’s film proudly makes the case.

Kneecap is a production by the UK and Ireland, staged by Fine Point Films, Mother Tongues Films and Wildcard Distribution. Its world sales are handled by Charades.

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