France was long ridiculed for the poor quality of its TV series, but that has changed enormously in recent years, with more sophisticated and compelling works gaining worldwide respect, among them the dramas The Bureau and Spiral, and the brilliant comedy Call My Agent (10 Pour Cent), a hit around the world on Netflix. The streaming platform has now released another winner, Lupin, which quickly moved into its top 10.
The fictional character Arsène Lupin is to French culture what Sherlock Holmes is to the Anglophone world. A gentleman thief and master of disguise, always impeccably dressed in topcoat, cloak and monocle, he was the hero of 17 novels, 39 novellas and numerous short stories and plays by Maurice Leblanc (1864-1941).
The TV series adds a new twist to the oft-referenced Lupin by having him played by a Black actor, the talented, hugely popular and always adorable Omar Sy, probably the only Black actor in France with immediate, universal recognition. He was also the first to win a César award for Best Actor (2012, for The Intouchables).
Sy is as lovable as ever in his role in Lupin as Assane Diop, a thief who is obsessed with the Lupin books and models his own capers on the clever tricks used by his hero as he outwitted his rivals and victims.
Diop is after more than money, however. This Robin Hood wants to avenge the disgrace thrust upon his father, a true gentleman who was falsely accused by his wealthy boss Hubert Pellegrini (played by Hervé Pierre) of stealing a priceless necklace that was once draped around the presumably lovely neck of none other than Marie-Antoinette herself.
The series starts with Diop orchestrating the theft of the very same necklace, which has been rediscovered and is being auctioned off at the Louvre, of all places. This highly improbable but exciting episode sets the stage for what is to come, as Diop tries not only to prove his father’s innocence – stymied at every turn by the wealth and connections of the evil Pellegrini – but also to win back his one true love Claire (Ludivine Sagnier) and their 14-year-old son, Raoul (Etan Simon).
One of the best and most moving episodes is no. 4, in which Diop hooks up with a former investigative journalist, Fabienne Bériot (convincingly played by Anne Benoît), whose life and career were also destroyed by Pellegrini.
Many of the situations in the first season are as farfetched as the Louvre incident mentioned above, but this is not a series to be taken seriously, no more than the original Lupin and Holmes stories were (Lupin actually met up with Holmes in some of Leblanc’s stories, by the way, but the author was forced to change the detective’s name to Herlock Sholmes after a complaint from Arthur Conan Doyle).
Just sit back, relax and enjoy as Omar Sy carries this entertaining fantasy along with his enormous personality amid the Parisian scenery we all love to see (even those of us who live here), with the bonus of a side trip to the spectacular beach at Étretat in Normandy.
Once you’re hooked, you’ll be glad to hear that Part 2 of Lupin will be released on Netflix this summer.Favorite