By John Sooja,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Lots of nudity, sexual violence in long fictional biopic.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Sometimes the world tells you that you can't do anything, especially if you're a woman, but the world is wrong. And while not an explicit or direct theme or message, clearly, 1960s Paris, France, was very male-centric and sexist.
Positive Role Models
Madame Claude is a strong central character, if not conventionally the "best" mother, employer, or partner. She's smart, ruthless when she needs to be, and protective of her "family." Opens herself up to love, despite her street sense telling her otherwise. Her protege, Sidonie, is also confident, strong, and stands up to her former abuser, eventually pressing charges and seeing him convicted, despite everyone telling her not to do it.
Violence & Scariness
Multiple scenes of women sex workers being hit, slapped, headbutted, kicked, whipped, choked, and chased. Many women are seen bruised, cut, bleeding, and scared. Women sex workers are sent to dangerous places to meet dangerous people. Sometimes they get beaten, raped, and assaulted. One dies and doesn't come back. Other stories of child abuse and child sexual abuse occur somewhat frequently. Discussion about killing former abusers. A man is shot in the head. A woman is shot in the arm, and then shot at more as she runs away. Men are beaten, tied up, and tortured. Talk of people being "taken care of," quick scenes of "hits" happening, some ordered by police, some ordered by organized crime.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Lots of nudity, many sex scenes, and an overabundance of lingering shots on women, their buttocks, breasts, and full bodies. The sex scenes aren't more explicit than the general overall degree of nudity and open discussion of sex work, clients (or "friends"), and various sexual acts, but there are plenty of them. A woman demands a younger woman show her how she washes her genitals, then does it for her. Lots of bare breasts, a few flaccid penises, and some female frontal nudity.
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Strong language includes: "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "a--hole," "whore," "chink," "cum," and "balls."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults and young people are shown almost constantly smoking cigarettes. Many scenes show adults drinking alcohol and having great times. A few scenes show adults exhibiting drunken behavior. Adults also snort cocaine somewhat frequently. A young woman spikes a man's drink and he later passes out.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Madame Claude is an adults-only drama about Fernande Grudet, who ran a brothel in Paris in the late 1960s. Known as Madame Claude, her wealthy clientele included members of the Mafia, John F. Kennedy, the shah of Iran, Marlon Brando, and Salvador Dali. This historically fictive take on Madame Claude's life imagines her downfall. With politicians, police, organized crime, and famous people all working with her to keep everyone safe, discreet, and thriving, some people were just bound to betray her. Expect lots of nudity, sex scenes, and a representation of a very sexist 1960s Paris, with many scenes that show men treating women poorly, abusively, and inappropriately. Women are constantly shown in underwear or nude. There's also lots of sexual violence: women are raped, beaten, whipped, tied up, hit, slapped, headbutted, chased, and shot. Open and frank discussion about child sexual abuse, killing abusers, and sex acts. Adults and young women are shown smoking cigarettes constantly. Lots of drinking and some drug use (cocaine). Strong language throughout includes "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "a--hole," "chink," "whore," "cum," and "balls."
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Gritty, Realistic and Disturbing
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What's the Story?
In MADAME CLAUDE, it's the 1960s and Fernande Grudet (Karole Rocher) runs a brothel for high end clientele. Her client list includes John F. Kennedy, Marlon Brando, and the shah of Iran. She works with organized crime, police, and others to protect her business and her employees. But as the world moves into the '70s, France is changing, and Madame Claude may be running out of friends.
Is It Any Good?
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.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about sexual violence in dramas. Was the sexual violence in Madame Claude warranted? Was it represented well? While on one hand, there's an argument to portray the brutality of sexual violence realistically in order to adequately convey how brutal this kind of violence is, but on the other hand, the representation of sexual violence can become gratuitous and/or glorified. Where do you think this film lands?
Discuss the representation of sexism in film. How does this film represent the rampant and open sexism of 1960s Paris? Sometimes, it might be important to as accurately as possible convey how a society realistically was, even if that society was incredibly sexist, for example. But also sometimes, certain films seem perhaps a bit too eager to represent certain aspects of "older times." In other words, in your estimation, does this film end up feeling like an excuse for heteronormative male fantasy? Or does this film end up feeling like simply an accurate representation of a certain time period and place?
How did you find the ending? Was the conclusion to Madame Claude's story satisfactory? Why and why not?
- On DVD or streaming: April 2, 2021
- Cast: Karole Rocher, Garance Marillier, Roschdy Zem, Pierre Deladonchamps
- Director: Sylvie Verheyde
- Inclusion Information: Middle Eastern/North African actors
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 112 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: February 17, 2023
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