We feel that the gods sometimes bother to answer our prayers. After watching a very long and tiresome series titled The Surrogacy, we asked for a palate cleanse with some qualitatively edited content and a gripping storyline. Therefore, it was a pure delight to lend our well-deserved attention to Chevalier. While the movie itself is based on the real life of Joseph Bologne, we are going to talk about the story from a cinematic standpoint. First of all, everything looks stunning, the music sounds great, and it is disappointing to note that the people the world idolizes (Mozart) were huge racists of their time. Secondly, while it may look like the story is about a man fighting racism for the sake of his art and his people, the hidden message is about the intersection of race issues with those of gender and class.
Joseph found himself unable to climb higher up the social ladder because of the complexion of his skin, but his oppression did not prevent his blindness to that of the women in society. He loves Marie Josephine with his entire heart but constantly fails to understand her choices and the societal structure that forces her hand. He is also unable to marry a woman of his own race because that would mean giving up the tokenistic rank and social status that he has worked so hard for. It may look like his limitation on the surface, but we must understand that it means that despite his race being a roadblock, he still has more acceptance in society than a woman. Had he been born a woman, his father would never have bothered to nurture his talents. Even Josephine, a white woman from the upper strata of society, was not free to live by her own will. The status of women, as seen through the oppression of Joseph due to his race, is the real message of Chevalier, and here is a recap of it.
Does Joseph Become The Music Director Of The Opera?
Joseph is the illegitimate son of a plantation owner with one of the slaves. His father is someone with a conscience, and that is why he decides to do one thing right for his son by enrolling him in a school where he may nurture his musical talent. Joseph does so accordingly while dealing with racist bullying his whole life. When he wins a duel in school, he gains the queen’s favor, Marie Antoinette, who appoints him as a Chevalier. It is a rank (the lowest one) that makes him one of the French nobility. But Joseph has greater ambitions, and he wishes to play for a wider audience. That prompts him to challenge and defeat Mozart on stage, which the nobility enjoys but does not take kindly to. Further, at a party, Joseph tells the queen that he wishes to be the musical director of the opera, a coveted position in society. But he is up against Christoph Gluck, a white man who is not French, but the color of his skin grants him greater access to the post. A challenge is enforced when both Joseph and Christoph organize an opera, and a committee judges their performances to decide who would be the better candidate for the position of music director.
Joseph immediately enlists the help of Madame de Genlis. We believe that in modern-day terms, he wants her to be the creative director of his production, and in return, she wants him to produce one of her stories once he gets what he wants. Joseph agrees, and he leaves to find his singer, Marie Josephine. He had heard her at the party and wanted her to take the stage in his production. Josephine’s husband, the Marquis de Montalembert, rejects the idea due to his disinterest in art and his bias against darker-skinned people. But Josephine defies him and tells Joseph that she wants to be a part of the opera. She can do that while her husband is away on tour. Joseph agrees, and slowly, the opera starts coming together. Josephine and Joseph begin their affair and start falling in love. As time passes, they hold the opera for the judges and are very positive about Joseph’s success. But that doesn’t prove to be the case. The judges, led by La Guimard, have written to the queen to disbar Joseph from the position. A heartbroken Joseph creates a scene at a party, and from then on, he is, for all intents and purposes, rejected from “polite society.” He is also heartbroken over Josephine, as her husband is back in town, and he forbids the lovers from meeting each other.
Six months pass, and Joseph is simply whiling away his time in his room. One fine day, he sees a pregnant Josephine and immediately asks her whether the child is his. Josephine cannot be sure of it, but she intends to raise it as her and the Marquis’ child. She asks to never see Joseph again and that they go their separate ways.
‘Chevalier’ Ending Explained: How Does Joseph Defy The French Nobility?
Back in his house, Joseph’s mother, Nanon, has had enough of her son moping around. She takes him out to a meeting where predominantly black people are playing their music, and they welcome Joseph with open arms. Joseph realizes that he has been struggling too hard and for too long to gain the white man’s approval when he should have instead been fighting for his people. With that idea, he decides to organize another orchestra, and he keeps that open to people from all classes and races. But the bad news is on its way to him, and he discovers that the child Josephine delivered was dark-skinned, implying it was Joseph’s, and the Marquis had the baby killed. Joseph and Josephine meet one last time, and she tells him that she turned him away to protect him and that she had to take the risk with her child because that was her only chance to have a life for herself and for her baby, where they would have some semblance of agency without the world against them.
After this meeting, even the Queen, Marie Antoinette, comes to meet him and tells him to stop his opera at once unless he wants to lose the privileges of nobility. France is up in arms against the queen and the monarchy, and Joseph’s music is just fueling the revolution. That day, Joseph leaves behind his wig in the house, implying that he himself is rejecting the nobility. When he starts his opera, the Marquis arrives at the venue and is ready to shoot Joseph. But this time, Joseph is seeking no one’s approval, and he doesn’t care for his life. At the end of Chevalier, Joseph fearlessly stands in front of the Marquis’ gun, which makes the people in the venue stand up to protect him, declaring their and his right to speak their truth. The Marquis is helpless as Joseph signals for the orchestra to continue playing while he walks out into the revolution in full swing.
We don’t say this often, but we believe that Chevalier would have benefited more as a series. While it solely focused on the theme of racism in this movie, a series would have allowed it to focus on a few more issues, like how art transcends the boundaries between men and how class is a determining factor of race. There is also another factor, and this was a clever insight we heard in the aforementioned, otherwise deplorable series The Surrogacy. One of the characters commented that the racism of others was often a product of the cycle of oppression and hate. This thought could have been brilliantly explored against the backdrop of the French Revolution if there had been more time. We hope someone picks up on this idea and makes a series on the life of Joseph Bologne soon.