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Sundance London 2024 – Kneecap ★★★★



Released: 23 August 2024

Director: Rich Peppiatt

Cast: Liam Óg “Mo Chara” Ó Hannaidh, Naoise “Móglaí Bap” Ó Cairealláin, JJ “DJ Próvaí” Ó Dochartaigh

Kicking off the 2024 Sundance London Film Festival, Kneecap is a brilliant comedy drama. It is an exciting acting debut for the members of the band Kneecap who are not only the subjects of this movie but also star in it as the leads. The film won the NEXT Audience Award as chosen by festivalgoers at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. It is also the first Irish-language film to take part in the Sundance Film Festival, where the movie premiered in January 2024.

Set in West Belfast in 2019, Kneecap follows JJ (DJ Próvai), a local schoolteacher, as he meets two self-proclaimed low-life scum, brothers Naoise (Móglaí Bap) and Liam Óg (Mo Chara). Upon seeing the lyrics that they write exclusively in the Irish language, JJ encourages them to pursue music and helps them produce it. With a hit song that became much more popular than any of them could have imagined, Kneecap was born. In a country of civil unrest, the hip-hop trio soon becomes involved in political matters as the Civil Rights movement in Ireland attempts to save their mother tongue.

The film begins with a voiceover to introduce us to the story. It suggests a documentary-like aesthetic calling back to the fact that Kneecap is based on a real story. But it is not the typical voice-of-God narration we may be used to seeing on screen, instead, it is a personal and subjective retelling of how the band started out. Bringing a refreshing perspective to the music biopic genre, in the way it portrays the origin story of the much-discussed and controversial Irish hip-hop trio. The fact all three band members start in the film as themselves also makes this film unique and particularly interesting to watch.

Most significantly, Kneecap highlights the importance of the Irish language. There are entire scenes, especially when JJ first meets Naoise and Liam Óg, where the dialogue between the main characters is exclusively in Irish. This feels particularly important as the fight to save the Irish as a language becomes one of the film’s most important issues. As the intertitles at the end tell us, one language dies every 40 days. Just like Kneecap’s music and the protest to have the language officially recognised in Ireland, both of which we see in the movie, the dim itself is a way of preserving and honouring the language.

It is also a chance to give a voice to Irish people, often missing in mainstream media, by making Kneecap both the protagonists of the film and the narrators of their own story. As Kneecap goes on, the film depicts various modes of resistance to the status quo: whether that is through cultural products – in this case, music – or political discussion, they are equally valid forms of self-determination for the Irish people. The use of over-imposed illustrations is unique and particularly fascinating, adding another dimension to the storytelling while keeping the visuals interesting to watch and also conveying the satirical tone of the movie to the audience.

Kneecap is one of the most exhilarating films I have seen in recent years with perfect comedic timing and well-placed needle drops. By the time the film ends, the audience has witnessed the original and musical evolution of the hip-hop trio thanks to the various music montages. As such, the music of Kneecap will become familiar even to those of us in the audience who may have known very little about the band going in. Whether you are a fan of Kneecap or not, the movie is accessible for all to learn about their music and the Civil Rights movement they accidentally became involved in.

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