A concerto that fights the power.
“Chevalier” is the true story about French musician Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, who became a virtuoso violinist in the 18th Century. He was born out of adultery between the married white plantation owner Georges de Bologne Saint Georges and the African slave Nanon, making him a free man of color, and was taken to Paris, where his musical talents would be his comfort blanket under the racism at the time.
Kelvin Harrison, Jr. has blown my mind a number of times with his performances in “Luce,” “Waves,” “Monster,” and “Cyrano,” and he continues that remarkable trend with his latest role. And he’s guided by director Stephen Williams (“Lost,” “Soul Survivor”) and writer Stefani Robinson (“What We Do in the Shadows,” “Atlanta”), who both seem to use influences from “Amadeus” and “Straight Outta Compton” by combining racial themes with classical music. And since most of the violinist’s manuscripts was destroyed by the French Revolution, music historians were lucky enough to discover some of his music and lessons about his life.
In this movie, the young man deals with many challenges, most of them regard his race. He is preparing to perform in a major concert, which forces him to be cut out by his friend-turned-enemy Marie Antoinette (Lucy Boynton). For obvious racial reasons. The tension between them thickens.
He also has a love story with Marie-Josephine (Samara Weaving), who was forced to marry the cruel and vein general Montalembert (Martin Csokas). While the prick is away, the young lady will play. And by play, I mean she agrees to sing in what was supposed to be Joseph’s concert. But when their affair goes too far, the prick resorts to drastic measures. This is when things really get challenging.
“Chevalier” is something for fans of classical music and history buffs, because of the direction, ambiance, and performances. Seeing the opening confrontation between the title violinist and Mozart (Joseph Prowen) almost reminds me of how F. Murray Abraham’s Antonio Salieri was jealous of Mozart’s magic in “Amadeus.” And while this film doesn’t exceed that masterpiece in terms of its pacing, it really keeps us listening to the music and acknowledging the character’s gifts and struggles.
Harrison, Jr. adapts well with the accent and characterization of a genius whose work was appreciated by audiences and whose skin color was victimized by racists. And his rivalry with Marie Antoinette and threats from Montalembert proves the story’s dangerous nature. History has a way of repeating itself, especially since innocent black people have been shot. And “Chevalier” wants to remind us that racism in Europe has attacked people back then. I’m saying because we’re in a time when movies and shows do some colorblind casting, and I don’t want people to be indulged in it without being reminded about the past. No past, no future.
Racism is unacceptable in every way, and even when I’m watching classic movies regarding the theme, I’m aggravated. But at least, this film is rated PG-13, so it doesn’t indulge in the slurs or violence. Don’t see “Chevalier” in a “12 Years a Slave” way; see it in an “Amadeus” way, especially since he has been labeled as “Black Mozart.” With all respect.
It’s more into the classical talents of this young composer, who finds himself in both worlds, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he had his struggles in the 18th Century. Seeing this movie can teach you a lot about him. And you have to appreciate the historians who discovered his life.