‘Madame Claude’: gritty Netflix take on Paris sex icon

She was a salacious icon of 20th century Paris — the brothel-keeper to the stars — and Netflix hopes the basis for another hit in the recent run of French successes.

In the 1960s and 1970s, “Madame Claude”, real name Fernande Grudet, had a client book that read like the guest list to a royal wedding: captains of industry, President John F Kennedy, Marlon Brando, the Shah of Iran…

There were enough secrets being divulged on her pillows to ensure protection from the authorities, as well as considerable interest from the secret services.

But in the latest telling, released on Netflix on April 2, the glamour in which her story was often shrouded is stripped away to show a darker reality.

“There is the image of Madame Claude: of Paris, beautiful dresses and big hotels, power… What interested me was what was happening behind the scenes,” director Sylvie Verheyde, 54, told AFP.

Behind the scenes were ties to organised crime, a life of emotional misery and a near-pathological lack of scruples: Madame Claude, it emphasises, always made sure to get her 30 percent, even when the girls returned bruised and bloodied from an encounter gone wrong.

“Madame Claude built her mythology. She was a great liar, a fraud who said she wanted to ‘beautify vice’, which meant brushing all the ugliness under the carpet,” said Verheyde.

– ‘This isn’t love’ –

The director knows this world well: a grandmother and cousin both worked as prostitutes, and she tackled the subject already in her 2016 film “Sex Doll”.

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