Chevalier brings to light the harsh reality of conversations that we still hold today by means of the unjust way in which who is remembered and who is deemed a legend is unfortunately not always controlled by talent, but by arbitrary social economics. And for that, it remains a timely film, despite being set in the lead-up to the French Revolution.
Chevalier opens with a violin duel between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Joseph Bologne (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). We instantly learn that Bologne is a violin prodigy who schools Mozart at his own game, causing him to leave the stage of his own concert in tears. What follows is a journey through Bologne’s life: from his beginnings at an elite private school where he is not accepted by his peers on account of him being the illegitimate son of a French nobleman and an African slave, to his earning his title as Chevalier in the court of Marie Antoinette (Lucy Boynton), to maintaining his reputation throughout France as a gifted composer.
When Chevalier challenges the incoming head of the arts council to an opera-composing contest for the position, he enlists the help of opera singer Marie-Joephine de Montalembert (Samara Weaving) to compose a masterful opera. What ensues is a whirlwind of brilliant performances, forbidden romance, and revolution, all underscored by sweeping visuals and a gorgeous score.
The obvious standout of this film is Kelvin Harrison Jr. in the title role. While Harrison Jr. has a handful of notable credits to his C.V., not the least of which include 2021’s Cyrano and 2022’s Elvis, his performance in this role is one that deserves to launch him into the ranks of a bonafide star. Approaching the role with an impressive amount of layers and depth, Harrison Jr. showcases every complex angle around Bologne. He gives off the air of a confident musician who is more than aware of his worth, who is simultaneously not ignorant to the drawbacks he unjustly faces.
Harrison Jr. showcases a man who is left in the difficult position of trying to reconnect with his mother, Nanon (Ronke Adekoluejo), who has been recently freed and reunited with her son, a man on the brink of musical genius, a man in love with a woman he knows he can never be with. All of which have the makings of a story that grips the audience from the beginning and never lets go until the somewhat unresolved ending. The supporting cast also gives strong performances, with Samara Weaving being another standout as Marie-Josephine. Weaving manages to bring a level of earnestness and heartbreak to a relatively tragic role.
The technical designs of this film are also gorgeous. The costume designs are bright and emblematic of eighteenth-century France, with those of Marie Antoinette in particular standing out. The hair and makeup designs are as gorgeous as one can expect out of a period piece, particularly of this time. However, the hair, makeup, and costume designs should mostly be commended for their cohesiveness. Every look on every person onscreen, be they principal or background, is treated with the same level of detail, scaling from the grand designs for the French nobles to the more simplistic designs for the citizens of France. However, Kris Bowers’s work is the real standout of the technical aspects, making a score as grandiose as those composed by the film’s subject matter.
Stefani Robinson’s screenplay is tight (with the runtime being only a little over 90 minutes), and the story never feels drawn out. Stephen Williams’s direction gives the film a cinematic and masterful feel that one can expect out of a period piece. However, the themes of the film are all the more relevant today. At his core, Bologne struggles with the unjust reality in which he is seated. He knows he is the most talented composer in all of France. Those around him know it. And yet, he can not achieve the same level of fame or recognition as his white counterparts. He can not marry anyone, on account of his status as an illegitimate child of an enslaved person and slaveowner. He stays friends with the nobles, particularly Marie Antoinette, when he is willing to be complacent in what the political system asks of him. Yet, when he speaks up for his due credit, he is suddenly dismissed. The film mentions in the credit sequences that Napoleon Bonaparte ordered for the destruction of Bologne’s compositions, which is why we still do not have his full collection to this day.
In telling this story, Chevalier brings to light the harsh reality of conversations that we still hold today by means of the unjust way in which who is remembered and who is deemed a legend is unfortunately not always controlled by talent, but by arbitrary social economics. And for that, it remains a timely film, despite being set in the lead-up to the French Revolution.
Likely: Best Score, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Production Design
Should be Considered: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), Best Score, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Production Design
Release Date: April 21, 2023
Where to Watch: In Select Theaters
Lives in NC, where she is on a first name basis with the owners of her favorite pho spot.
Favorite Actress: Angela Bassett
Leave a Reply