Chevalier | Fresh Takes
Fresh takes and film reviews from new voices in film.
Ashish, Ditta, Nisan, Sabrina, Ummi and Zara
14 Jun 23
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Here are some Fresh Takes on CHEVALIER, the extraordinary story of Black maestro Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the illegitimate son of an African slave and a French plantation owner, who rises to great heights in French society as a composer before an ill-fated love affair.
If you haven't seen it yet, book your tickets here.
Nisan, (25)Nisan is a postgraduate student of Art History, and is curious about the ways people tell stories in different media.
Did you ever wonder what Prince would be like in the 1700s? Well, you don't have to
wonder any longer.
Chevalier is the story of a musician, a star of his time, struggling to find a balance between his ideals, class and race. Kelvin Harrison Jr, who plays the main character Joseph Bologne, mentions Prince as one of his inspirations in portraying this character, which creates a familiarity with the character for the audience from very early on.
One of the highlights of the film is the writing. The film focuses on a very particular period of Joseph Bologne's life, sort of an in-between period, in which things are not going exactly the way they had been before.
It must have been difficult to decide which part of Bologne's life to focus on, since he lived many lives, and I believe the writer Stefani Robinson chose a great angle, paralleling the tension in Bologne's life with the tension in France building up to the Revolution.
Chevalier portrays difficult subjects, such as the place of race, gender and class in society, and shows different sides of being an ally, especially of convenience. Its masterful writing and charismatic characters make it such a fun watch. Everyone in the audience with me was laughing and gasping, and I think, so will you.
Zara Farooq, (21)Zara is a Film Studies graduate from London who enjoys seeking out and writing about a wide variety of films, and is passionate about the importance of the cinema experience.
The crashing, opening crescendo is enough to fully immerse the viewer into this tumultuous, stirring period piece that takes full advantage of the opulent era in which it is set, and the grandiose symphonies that are integral to its story.
Despite the trappings of a conventional period film, Stephen Williams' Chevalier foregrounds a voice that has historically been suppressed by those who are typically subjects of these kinds of films.
This voice is expertly conveyed by Kelvin Harrison Jr. who delivers an important nuance, ensuring that the titular character is multidimensional and flawed, as well as being entirely deserving of the recognition he was not afforded.
The precarity of the position of Joseph Bologne (the titular Chevalier) is a driving point of the narrative as the uniqueness of his situation is translated into a recognisable difficulty of being caught between multiple 'worlds'.
Between the seriousness, there is fun to be had in a gripping romance and uproarious musical scenes, coordinated to perfection to spotlight the beautiful, orchestral music and properly honour Bologne's work- which is, ultimately, the goal of the film.
The narrative develops satisfyingly, with obstacles deployed strategically to ensure peak engagement and satisfaction. Elements that could be considered cheesy in a conventional period drama are, in this film, given more emotional weight that make it an easy, but thought-provoking watch.
Ummi Hoque, (22)
Ummi is a Media Production student at Sussex University in Brighton, interested in multi-disciplinary creative practices and aspiring to work in Film Production.
Stefani Robinson and Stephen Williams dig up the extraordinary life of Joseph Bologne, a virtuoso violinist, and bring it to the screen in this compelling film. It explores class, status, race, love, and revolution, taking the viewer through the trials and tribulations of this untold story.
Kelvin Harrison Jr. leads the film with a magnetic performance, making bold statements through Bologne's talents in music and fencing rather than radical words.
The illegitimate son of an African slave and a French plantation owner, Joseph navigates 18th-Century France as a black man that gains the honorary title of Chevalier de Saint Georges – thus, part of the upper echelons of society, but not treated like the rest merely due to his complexion.
Harrison Jr successfully embodies the confident but deeply complex psyche of Bologne, as he battles with his heritage and the realities of society.
Cinematographer Jess Hall lifts the music visually through the arc shots and wide-angle shots which I found particularly aesthetically pleasing paired with the grand musical performances.
Composer Kris Bowers (Green Book, King Richard, Bridgerton) sonically transforms the film through the atmospheric blend of 18th-century original compositions and contemporary styles, creating a grandiose soundtrack.
This moving biographical drama leaves you wanting to delve deeper into Joseph Bologne's body of work and makes you question how many other untold stories and talents have been buried and are waiting to be resurfaced.
Ashish Shrestha, (23)
Hopeful future journalist and stand-up comedian, catch Ashish doing an unpaid 5 at an open mic or comedy club near you.
Check out his Beau is Afraid review here.
Chevalier, a biopic about Joseph Bologne, is a movie about race, about revolution, and, above all, about music. The story is simple and effective, with plenty of moments where me and my friend looked at each other in shock, and we weren't alone: the audience reactions were great.
The camera movements are fun, the editing between scenes is refreshing (especially during a key montage), and although it takes a minute to adjust to the lead actor's American accent, it's well cast and the writing is engaging.
But I think what stands out is the score. This is a music movie, so it makes sense that it's chock full of classical bangers, and I feel the best thing about this movie is the music – I know that that might scare you off, but just hear me out.
This is a biopic about a legendary composer, so the music should be great, and the movie really sings when, well, it sings. Elvis and Tár are recent examples of movies about musicians where the music takes a backseat to the story; in this movie, the score is the hidden lead actor.
Even when it's just one long-held uncomfortable note, the film's musicality made my ears perk up. It feels like every scene was written to punctuate the score, which is a huge credit to the writing and direction.
The final song has an 'oomph' and a sense of life that the shot choices really solidify – it's triumphant.
Sabrina Fearon-Melville, (25)
Sabrina is a social media co-ordinator at BBC Three and Literature and Visuals Editor for The Floor Mag. Sabrina loves films which are visually appealing first and foremost, her comfort film is Little Miss Sunshine.
Amidst the French Revolution, something else is brewing in the arts spaces of Paris. Chevalier tells the story of Joseph Bologne, played by the outstanding Kelvin Harrison Jr., a violin virtuoso who was overlooked within the Parisian arts space due to his mixed heritage.
Narratively compelling, director Stephen Williams' film does well to capture the essence of the period drama extremely well - the longing stares, the elaborate ballroom scenes and the on-point costuming.
Samara Weaving plays Marie-Josephine, Joseph's predictably married love interest and the muse supporting his compositions. Weaving makes for a compelling love interest, well written and yet realistically flawed in her understanding of what it means to be a man of Bologne's racial standing in the climate in which the film is set.
Overt racism and underlying microaggressions aren't minced throughout the film, and Harrison Jr. delivers a strong performance which depicts his internal struggle with being a multiracial man placed into a society which continually shows that it values him for his abilities as a master fenceman and musician, and overlooks how his race is taken into account. And yet it is his heritage which is thrown in his face when he doesn't conform to the Parisian way.
With a strong opening scene, depicting Bologne going head to head with the then-favourite Mozart, it's a captivating start which doesn't necessarily hold throughout the film's run.
Some of the plot points fall flat, and it would have been nice to see more of the relationship between Bologne and his freed slave mother, whom he hadn't seen since being a young boy – instead, the focus lies with the heady romance scenes between the chevalier and Marie-Joesphine, who we know are destined to be doomed from the start.
Ditta Demeter, (25)
London-based Ditta is the proud owner of a languages degree, a firm believer in social justice, and a lover of art that sits at the intersection of these three.
She loves original stories that reflect on and engage with political issues, all the while remaining messy and deeply human. Having said that, not all of her favourite movies pass the Bechdel test, which she is learning to be okay with.
Chevalier tells one of the most inspiring stories you've probably never heard about. Featuring a protagonist of colour who ascends to nobility, it follows the ongoing trend of "revisionist" period dramas, namely Bridgerton and its recent Queen Charlotte spin-off.
Unlike the Netflix series, however, Chevalier is rooted in reality. The film maps the life of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a composer, violinist, and champion fencer born in Guadeloupe, but taken to Paris to pursue music aged just seven.
Though not completely unique in its storytelling, Chevalier fills an enduring gap in the modern cinematic canon by presenting a non-white musical genius character.
It might not be the first big picture about unmatched musical talent, but it certainly is one of the only period pieces dedicated to a Black virtuoso. Sure enough, it is fairly euphemistic in its depiction of eighteenth-century France - Chevalier, for the most part, is sheltered from the unbelievable abuse his real-life counterpart was likely subject to - but it remains boldly celebratory in the presentation of its protagonist.
Just like its eponymous hero, Chevalier is witty, clever, and often moves at lightning speed. Its script, written by award-winning screenwriter Stefani Robinson is tight and effortlessly modern without falling into anachronism - a real feat in a modern portrayal of a bygone era in France.
With excellent performances from Kelvin Harrison Jr., Samara Weaving, and Lucy Boynton, and a cameo from everyone's favourite older sister Sian Clifford, it is an entertaining and vividly picturesque watch.
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