AW Kautzer's Film Review Film

Film Review: Chevalier (2023) 


Chevalier tells the story of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges a French- -Caribbean violinist and composer played by Kelvin Harrison Jr. in a star-making performance. 

Many, including this reviewer, had no idea who Joseph Bologne the Chevalier de Saint-Georges was.  Thanks in large part of Napoleon, the Musician’s vital contributions remain almost unknown.  Chevalier means to fix that with a film that leaves you wanting more, in the best way possible.  

Born the Bastard of a Caribbean Slave (Ronke Adekoluejo) and a French Aristocrat (Jim High), Joseph (Kelvin Harrison Jr) is taken from his mother.  He is placed in the best of schools by his father with the almost unattainable task to excel above and beyond his peers.  He remains in said school because of his virtuoso talent with the violin, music, fencing and just about anything he is given to task.  Eventually, through sheer will of force Bologne is made Chevalier de Saint-Georges by Marie Antoinette.  Though Bologne will quickly find that his title yields no real merit or worth as he courts a talented singer (Samara Weaving) and challenges for the appointment of the director of the French Opera.  

Chevalier is the kind of adroit, angry, and sharp historical costume dramas that shakes the dust off of what many consider a stiff genre.  The script by Stefani Robinson at every turn subtly shifts its gaze into the critique of the opulent life of the French Pre-Revolution.  Bologne becomes our guide through this world that though we see the racism very present he does not and has not awaken to that.  The way that director Stephen Williams and cinematographer Jess Hall slowly and beautifully turn the film on itself with visual that move away from opulence and are left with the vanity and cruelty of the era. 

Kelvin Harrison Jr. has worked towards a huge leap forward as a presence in film since his one-two punch of revelatory work in Waves and Luce. Here as Bologne, Harrison fulfills on the promise of early roles in a star making performance. There is a quiet intensity that the actor brings to Chevalier that demands an audience attention.  Few actors can summon the sort of emotions physically without it seeming like histrionics.  Harrison’s as he begins to connect to not only his roots but with his mother is the kind of stirring work that fewer can pull off and even fewer can do so with the sort of resonance he does here. 

At its end, Chevalier is the type of film that leaves you wanting to know more about its subject.  Which is the biggest compliment one can give to any historical drama.  In that regard, Chevalier is a smashing success.  One that will prompt more to investigate the life and times of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges.  

Chevalier is in theaters April 21st

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