“Lupin” delights, surprises, and presents a social critique
By Diane Carson
A wondrous medley of James Bond and “Mission Impossible” films, Houdini, Sherlock Holmes, and great heist capers, the French Netflix series “Lupin” offers a treasure trove of action and interaction. The central character, Assane Diop, patterns his life after the series title individual, Arsène Lupin, a sly gentleman thief created by author Maurice Leblanc in his 1905 novels.
Originally Assane Diop was going to be Lupin himself rather than inspired by him. Fortunately, in adapting the books, George Kay realized a better choice, allowing Assane to incorporate racial and cultural critiques of contemporary French society. Assane became the son of a Senegalese chauffeur, wrongly accused and framed for theft. Firmly embedded in his social milieu, sophisticated but alienated from the entitled upper class, Assane targets only the most priceless art and jewelry. I’ll say little more about his cunning talent because watching his clever escapades is just too much fun to know about ahead of time from a Marie-Antoinette diamond necklace to a painting by Manet.
A full biographical profile of Assane emerges through frequent juxtapositions of his childhood events, often edited with impressive cross cutting and match cuts. In addition, Assane has a wife, Claire, and son, Raoul, whom he loves as they love him, a refreshing change to so many plots. However, Assane’s mother, Mariama, has been an absence in his life, in prison in Senegal for reasons that are eventually disclosed. Also important is Assane’s right-hand man, Benjamin Ferel, a resourceful antique dealer. Add in a couple police investigators, an astute journalist, a boxing coach, and a wonderful dog named J’accuse.
The acting complements the outstanding production values: composition, art direction, excellent dialogue, music, and fearsome villains. Omar Sy as Assane Diop remains charismatic and compelling in every scene. Equally superb are: Ludivine Sagnier as wife Claire and Antoine Gouy as Benjamin Ferel. Showrunner Kay acknowledges the importance of Assane’s characteristic, good arrogance, delivered with an irresistible smile. Omar Sy adds, “My mom’s a cleaner. My dad used to work in a factory. Coming from where I come from, I had to be arrogant . . . sometimes you have to pretend.” “Lupin” is glorious pretending. In French with English subtitles, the three seasons of “Lupin” stream on Netflix.