R E V I E W – M O V I E
Cramming a plethora of historical events in a two-hour-long movie is tricky enough. Throwing in a million different plotlines on top of that makes a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, that is precisely the case in Netflix’s Madame Claude (2021). In contrast to the 1977 erotic thriller of the same name, Sylvie Verheyde’s Madame Claude is decidedly unerotic. But it is also not the thriller Netflix has been marketing it as. It falls under the trope of biopics which focus so much on the big picture that the nuance gets lost in the process.
The life of Fernande Grudet, widely known as Madame Claude, has been a point of interest in literature and silver screens alike for a long time. The 2021 Netflix film is the second attempt at capturing the iconic Frenchwoman in reels.
“I realised very early that most men treat us like whores. I decided to be the queen of the whores. To use our bodies as arms and as armour, to never suffer again,” says Claude (played by Karole Rocher) in the opening voiceover sequence.
With this, the film opens to a ritzy party thrown in celebration of the birthday of one of Claudet’s girls. The party sequence is a foreshadowing of all that is to continue for half the duration of the film: all glam and no substance.
In this party, the audience is introduced to the poker-faced Sidonie (portrayed brilliantly by Garance Marrilier), who is arguably just as much a protagonist of the film as the titular character. The film progresses providing voiceovers by Claudet to shed light on her psyche in between the political upheavals that take place during her reign. It’s the dynamic between staunch Claude and her protégé Sidonie that becomes the driving force of the movie. Karole Rocher plays the role of Fernande Grudet convincingly, portraying both the ruthlessness and emotional vulnerability of Claudet with conviction. The right-hand woman of her flourishing prostitution business, Sidonie, is portrayed on screen by Garance Marillier. She provides the contrast to Claudet’s strict nature with her youthful one.
Marillier’s portrayal of the young trainee with a fierce determination and a horrific past is nothing short of majestic. Yet, her character Sidonie suffers from bad writing, rendering her dialogues a bit too ambiguous to hit home. By trying too hard to portray her as the mysterious girl, the writers let the enigma surrounding her overshadow the substance in her character. Claude’s character, on the other hand, suffers from a lack of subtlety. The voiceovers that are accommodated in between the political events not only interrupt the flow, but also border on exposition. The muddled nature of the plotline renders the chain of events incomprehensible to the audience. It appears to be an awkward blend of film noir, fictionalised biography and psychological character study with thriller elements thrown in.
The murky nature of the film coupled with its inconsistent pace eclipse the effort of the brilliant cast. The first half is too slow to ever be counted as sequences in a thriller movie. Where the slow pace could be utilised to indulge in an in-depth character study of the ‘lady pimp of France’, it is convoluted with too many sub-plots to put an emphasis on Claudet’s psyche. Her emotions surface fleetingly in the latter half of the film when the pace picks up.
Instead of honing in on monumental aspects of the titular character’s life, it tries to include as many historical events as possible, making the plotline too convoluted to be of a fictionalised biography, by referencing iconic movements that happened during Claudet’s lifetime in passing comments as a desperate attempt at name-dropping. The attempts prove to be futile since the dialogues come off as borderline incoherent for the lack of context.
Madame Claude (2021) is yet another promising prospect of a film suffering from the Netflix Syndrome. In true Netflix fashion, the film upholds the legacy of Netflix productions: too many subplots and too little substance with too much exposition.
Tasmim spends all her time listening to true crime podcasts. Send her killer ideas at [email protected]