Chevalier is directed by Stephen Williams and stars Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Samara Weaving, and Lucy Boynton in the incredible to true story of a Black violinist and composer in Marie Antoinette-era, France. Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (Harrison), was a masterful musician whose contributions to 18th century music were largely erased by Napoleon and white historians, and Chevalier folds his life story into a relatively focused episode in which Bologne competes with a rival composer to win the directorship of the Paris Opera.
Williams stuffs as many thematic comments into the movie as possible. There are the intersections of race, class, and gender and how all of these matrices of difference collide in systems of oppression. One of the questions that this film asks is if you play the game that is built by the white aristocracy – even if you play that game well – will they ever accept you? The answer, especially in pre-Revolutionary France, is no.
What Chevalier has in thematic breadth, it lacks in thematic depth. Chevalier is not adding anything new to the discussion of those themes, but perhaps merely noting the intersectionality of how white supremacist societies affect all their citizens who don’t belong to the perceived social norm is enough. Chevalier is a much better film than Green Book (2018), but it did remind me of how a film can say systems of oppression are bad and leave it at that.
Technically, the film is masterful. The interior shots display some beautiful art direction and set decoration by Gemma Randall and Lotty Sanna. The costume design by Oliver Garcia is top notch. And the music is absolutely lovely.
Ultimately, Chevalier is a good but not great drama that touches on a lot of very important themes with excellent performances and a visual feast.