Madame Claude, the Netflix movie about France’s most famous prostitute shows her dark and violent side

The first film on Madame Claude was released in 1977, shot by Just Jaeckin – the director of Emmanuelle – with Françoise Fabian in the part of France’s most famous prostitute and protector, and with the music of the great Serge Gainsbourg to enhance a life that, told in this way, seemed to be dedicated to eroticism, to the liberation of women, “to remove what could be ugly and vulgar in the profession”, as Madame Claude herself said . Times have changed a lot, and the film by director Sylvie Verheyde, which will be released from Friday 2 April on Netflix proves it.

Much is already known about Madame Claude, especially the fascinating, glamorous and paradoxically presentable side: born Fernande Grudet in Angers in 1923 and died in 2015 in Nice, of modest origins (her father had a cart of sandwiches in front of the station), she was convinced that to succeed in life a woman had to master two arts: cooking and sex, “And I don’t know how to cook.” Her intuition was to totally reinvent herself – posing as an aristocrat who had escaped the Nazi concentration camp in Ravensbruck – and to make prostitution an instrument of social ascent, for themselves and the girls – over 500 – who, starting from the 1960s, agreed to work for her.

With her yoke hair, sweater and string of pearls, in the eighties Madame Claude was interviewed by French TV and was almost convincing, in an attempt to explain that the girls with her learned the habits and ways of high society, how we dress and how we converse, and thanks to her they frequented very rich and powerful men ready to give money, jewelry, luxury car. After all, it was Madame Claude who invented and popularized the great euphemism: “Escorts, not prostitutes.” For decades, Madame Claude and her girls have been associated with amused tales about celebrities who would resort to their savoir faire, always the same names: the shah of Iran, Gianni Agnelli, Gaddafi, and the American president John Kennedy who in 1961, in the days of his visit to Paris and the meeting with De Gaulle, asked Madame Claude for a double of his wife Jackie but in an uninhibited version.

Madame Claude had an apartment at 18 rue Marignan, a few meters from the Elysée, and there she received phone calls on behalf of billionaires, heads of state or entrepreneurs. She was good at interpreting an era and supporting a world on the rise, that optimistic and rich France that crossed the ocean with the Concorde and discovered conscious and claimed eroticism. Sometimes she was arrested and sentenced, the taxman demanded billions, but all in all she always went well: she knew many secrets, the powerful were sensitive to her blackmail. As for the others, few criticized her, even for fear of appearing backward and petty-bourgeois. Madame Claude was an aspirational product, as marketers would say.

The film of Sylvie Verheyde breaks this tale and shows the dark side by Madame Claude. For example, an elegant girl is seen walking through the gate of a splendid villa by the sea, waiting to lend herself to a client’s fantasies, as usual. Only this time three men chase her to beat her, one harder than the other, until she is bleeding and numb. Madame Claude did not refuse any specialties, and if a client’s desires involved extreme violence, she would send an unsuspecting girl to punish, perhaps the one who had dared to contradict her or rebel against paying the commission (30% of earnings and gifts went to the despotic protector). “Things were anything but wonderful in Madame Claude’s universe – says Verheyde -. To believe that a prostitute, even in that high-ranking context, would gladly do such a job is as hypocritical as imagining a housekeeper who is passionate about cleaning. ”

We are a long way from the beautiful Deneuve by day for Louis Buñuel, and also from the unprejudiced view that many feminists, for example Elisabeth Badinter, have of sex workers who use their bodies freely, provided that they are not exploited by the racketeering. protectors. But the woman described in Sylvie Verheyde’s film was, the racket, and the film aims to show all violence and squalor remained in the profession, exposing the great scam of Madame Claude.

April 1, 2021 (change April 1, 2021 | 17:34)

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