This article contains major spoilers for the Madame Claude ending.
The real selling point of Sylvie Verheyde’s interminable biographical drama Madame Claude, now streaming on Netflix, is its basis in fact. The titular madame, Fernande Grudet, rose from a provincial background to something of a self-styled aristocrat at the head of an exclusive brothel in Paris’s swanky 16th arrondissement, where, with a team of hand-picked call girls, she serviced a client list that included many movers and shakers in Parisian high-society. Through the interference of the Intelligence Services, the fallout of the Markovi? affair, and the general political turbulence of late-period Gaullism in the 60s and 70s, Grudet finds her sex empire threatened with ruin and herself facing public disgrace.
Like many powerful people from humble beginnings, Grudet was known to self-mythologize, but Madame Claude adopts an on-the-nose and verbose narration that lacks a lot of the true-or-false mystery in the real story. Contentious aspects of her background are left untouched or skimmed over. The film is primarily concerned with the present, introducing Grudet at the peak of her success, with her ideology most completely formed, and then allowing it all to spiral thanks to the interference of the state.
Since so much of this is skimmed over, the Madame Claude ending is a flurry of sequences, close to a montage, detailing what happened to her following being charged with tax evasion and fleeing France for America, only to be deported back to France to be arrested, in a lovely little irony, by the first female police lieutenant. In all this Grudet left her woefully neglected (and pregnant) biological daughter behind. The film’s script instead puts one of her atypical call-girls, Sidonie, into the role of surrogate daughter, and in the film’s closing moments we see her layout to Grudet during a phone call that she left because she was scared Grudet would hurt her how she hurts others and herself. She nonetheless thanks the madame for all she has done for her and says she loves her, as we see an older, grey-haired Grudet stroll along a beach. She passed away at the age of 92.