Film: Madame Claude

Somewhere in Madame Claude (2021) is an interesting tale of historical intrigue, but it doesn’t quite make it out. This period biopic is about Madame Claude (Karole Rocher), a French brothel keeper in the 1960s whose clientele includes political leaders, celebrities, and the wealthy elite. Claude has built a lucrative empire for herself serving powerful men—while also secretly providing valuable intelligence to the French police, an arrangement that has protected her and enabled her operation to continue. But eventually, the inherent criminality of her enterprise gets the best of her.

The scenario seems rife with possibilities, but unfortunately writer-director Sylvie Verheyde’s take on it fails to capitalize on them. As a character study, it’s relatively effective, drawing out Claude’s icy loneliness by placing it in contrast to one of her key prostitutes, Sidonie (Garance Marillier), a high-society dropout with whom she develops a certain mother-daughter rapport. But the political hugger-mugger plot is a muddle, running subservient to a focus on stylish depictions of mod-sixties depravity and vice. Rocher and Marillier have a touching enough chemistry to make it watchable, but ultimately it doesn’t amount to much.

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