One of the biggest appeals of Netflix is the easy access viewers get to international films and series. This introduces the audience to new lore, new plots and characters and generally broadens our horizons.
In 2021, Netflix released Lupin, a French mystery thriller. The series is based off the French fictional character Arsène Lupin, a fictional gentlemen thief and master of disguise. The character was created in 1905 by French writer Maurice Leblanc. As a gentleman thief, Arsène Lupin was a direct result of the popularity of a detective known as Sherlock Holmes. Launched in the magazine Je sais tout (“I know all”), Lupin was also a detective, who used his skills to get away with his crimes.
At the time, both these trends were extremely popular. So, why not cover both? Leblanc also saw more inspiration in real life as a real-life gentleman thief named Alexandre Jacob was tried, along with approximately forty compatriots, for more than 100 robberies.
Just to clarify what exactly a gentleman thief (or gentleman burglar) is, it is a type of character that typically is rich, charming, and generally avoids physical alterations if they can. Another important feature about gentleman thieves is their motives. They generally don’t steal the items just because they want the items. They steal the items to stick to a personal code or for more than the materialistic value of the items. In Lupin’s case (in the magazine), he steals from the rich to redistribute forgotten or mistreated antiques.
In the magazines, Lupin has multiple fantasy elements. Various fantasy elements included a radioactive ‘god-stone’ that cures people and causes mutations, the fountain of youth, and an occultist named Giuseppe Balsamo. Due to the show’s more grounded tone, it would be hard for these elements to be placed in this adaptation.
Arsène Lupin does eventually have a confrontation with one of his influences, Sherlock Holmes. Known as Herlock Sholmès (due to copyright), it was a confrontation between the world’s best detective and the greatest thief. This was before the Bat and the Cat was created. These are two stories. The first is called The Blond Lady and the second is called The Jewish Lamp. In The Blond Lady, Herlock Sholmès investigates a missing antique desk that Lupin had stolen. Despite both were on opposite sides of the law, the story ends with both Sholmès and Lupin respecting one another.
The second story, The Jewish Lamp, begins with Herlock Sholmès receiving a letter to find a specific Jewish lamp. Herlock Sholmès then receives a letter from Lupin to not intervene. The two characters then clash over the lamp. This was an extremely popular pairing, even being adapted into a film. In 2008, a PC game was created as an adaptation. Sherlock Holmes Versus Arsène Lupin (known in the UK and Australia as Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis) sees Lupin send letters and clues to Sherlock Holmes. He threatens that he will steal five of England’s most prized treasures if Sherlock Holme does not solve his riddles. Much like in the first story, there is a mutual respect between the two.
In the latest Netflix adaptation, Assane Diop (played by Omar Sy) is inspired by the tales of Lupin to seek revenge against the wealthy Pellegrini family. Raised by a single father who was an immigrant from Senegal, he was soon orphaned after his father, Babakar, was framed for a theft he did not commit. His father, out of shame, hangs himself in jail. (this was later revealed to have been an assassination).
With two parts of 5 episodes, the film wastes no time. From the first few moments of the episode, you can sense something is going to happen. The series starts off with led character Assane blending into a normal auction. He’s almost unnoticeable amongst the others. However, it is the scenes after that change your perception. Assane goes after the very necklace that placed his father in jail, with the help of some loan sharks. These loan sharks think they can double cross Assane, only for them to be outwitted and left to rot in jail. You could not have seen it coming because your attention was not on the plan.
That is at the core of this show – We saw Assane’s face, but we were not looking at him. This is also reflected in Netflix France promo material where Sy states something similar a passerby.
This theme is heavy throughout the entire show. The espionage as we see Assane narrowly escape and outwit both the police and his enemies is quick, fast-paced, and ingenious. Even though we know who he is when he is wearing his disguises, Sy managed to still add a unique charm to each one. They soon feel like brand new characters rather than just disguises at times. Without giving too much away, the twists and turns this show takes feels logical yet unexpected. This is espionage done right.
Lupin broke dozens of records. In the UK, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain and Denmark, Lupin was the first Netflix French show to be in the top 10. The series also hit No. 1 in Canada, Brazil, Argentina, and South Africa. According to Netflix, 76 million accounts watched some of the series within the first four weeks of its release. Critics have highly praised Lupin. Lupin received a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes for season 1 and a 96% rating for season 2. Many critics praised Sy, the writing and the cinematography of the series.