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Madame Claude 2021 Movie Review Poster Trailer Online
Director: Sylvie Verheyde
Writer: Sylvie Verheyde
Stars: Karole Rocher, Roschdy Zem, Garance Marillier
I watched Madame Claude by Sylvie Verheyde on Netflix, which just premiered a couple of days ago. It’s the second French biopic about “Madame Claude,” née Fernande Grudet, who operated the most illustrious brothel in Paris for fifteen years in the 1960’s and 1970’s–the first, also titled Madame Claude, by Just Jaekin, dates from 1977 and starred Francoise Fabian. I wasn’t sure I would like the new version, since a few of the reviews panned it, but I decided to start watching it to see if I liked it. I watched it all. I saw it VOSTF–speaking French with French subtitles.
The best thing about this film is that it is directed by a woman, Sylvie Verheyde. This is important, although little discussed by the mostly male critics and commentators, but I doubt that any male director could have enjoyed the intimacy with the almost entirely female cast. There is only one principal male character, the voyou–gangster–Jo Attia, played by veteran actor Roschdy Zem, who occupies a minor role. Most of the film ostensibly takes place in Madame Claude’s maisons closes at 18, rue de Marignan, near the Champs-Elysées, and 32, rue de Boulainvilliers, a discrete location in the 16th.
A crucial aspect of the film is mostly ignored by the American audience or even by French people who did not live in Paris in the 1960’s and 1970’s, as I did. A Yugoslav, Stevan Markovic, whose name is mispronounced by some of the characters, a Corsican, François Marcantoni, President George Pompidou, his wife, Claude, and the actor Alain Delon were all involved in a bombshell scandal that erupted in 1968 and is evoked a background to the film to suggest Madame Claude’s connections with la pègre, the French underworld. According to the Wikipedia, the affair began when one of Delon’s bodyguards, Markovic, was found dead. Both Delon and his longtime friend Marcantoni were questioned by the police. Marcantoni was originally charged with the murder, but after further questioning by the police, he was released. Markovic’s murder is still unsolved.
Most of the sexy scenes are near the beginning of the film. There are a few violent moments, but most of the film revolves around the entrepreneurial Madame Claude’s business and the “Claudettes” she recruited for her wealthy and powerful clients. The end is worth the wait.
There are several good articles online, some with cheesecake photos, about Madame Claude. Several books, including her 1994 autobiography, Madam, describe her life. She died in Nice in 2015 at the age of 92, keeping many of her secrets to her grave.
French actress Karole Rocher is excellent in the title role and will probably garner a Cesar, the French equivalent of an Oscar, for her starring role as Madame Claude.
The young Garance Marillier, born in 1998, is excellent as Sidonie, the daughter of a diplomat. The enigmatic Sidonie puffs or pretends to puff a Virginia Slims most of the time. (I checked: the iconic cigarettes premiered in 1968, the time of the film.) Sidonie becomes Madame Claude’s favorite Claudette and her confidante.
Because of some confusion in the script, I’d rate the film a B overall. It’s worth watching, but not destined to become a classic. Netflix rates it “steamy” and “cerebral.” Right, it probably is both.