This mature drama is a mixed bag. The first hour of this luxuriously-shot and deftly-acted movie is intoxicating. The problem is that the second hour of Madame Claude is boring, goes nowhere, and ultimately concludes the film unsatisfactorily. Indeed, if the film had reduced the number and length of all its languorous shots of skin, the runtime might have been quite tolerable. Further, while the film clearly presents a very sexist and unfair and violent toward women 1960s Paris, the attitude the film presents, using voice-over from Madame Claude (of the film), is that there's nothing women can do about it. Madame Claude is also about a powerful woman in this incredibly difficult and dangerous environment, but clearly the story has a bleak trajectory.
After all this set up, after all the players and pieces are added to the board, nothing happens. After all the intrigue around introducing her protege, Sidonie, or after all the drama around a lover of Claude's having an affair with one of her girls, or after all the drama around the police making Madame Claude use her "best" girls to trap dangerous men in the act of hurting women, nothing really happens. It's as if the film realizes that it has already gone on far too long, and thus, wraps itself up quickly. In a blink, Madame Claude is back with voiceover while a montage shows her leaving prison looking older and now with white hair. Her voiceover then explains what happened in the last decade. Then a quick text blurb about what happened to the real Madame Claude after her prison sentence and that's it. It's as if the film can't sustain itself, can't sustain all its glamorization, titillation, seduction, drama, and tension, and it all collapses under its own excitable weight. Madame Claude initially entices with powerful women leads, strong acting, and a high stakes plot, but only disappoints afterwards. It's like presenting the first part of a story really well, only to then follow with no rise, no primary conflict, no climax, and no satisfying resolution.