Gaumont Television, 2021-
📷 : Used with permission, Netflix
Suspenseful and intense thrillers
Movies and TV shows that make you laugh, or involve urgency, like chase scenes or other physical activity
Based on a series of novels written by the late 19th/early 20th century French writer, Maurice Leblanc, Lupin is about a man who seeks justice by borrowing strategies from the fictional character, “Arsène Lupin,” in Leblanc’s books. Often described by fans of the books as a gentleman burglar and a master of disguises, Lupin uses costume and sleight of hand to navigate French high society and elude the authorities.
A contemporary show dubbed in English, Lupin is set in the cobblestone streets and architectural landscape of France, with the 19th century feel of Harry Potter. There’s even a surreal scene that celebrates an event of the period, where people gather on the beach in black top hats, wearing capes and carrying canes.
On the surface, Lupin weaves an entertaining, fantastical tale about getting justice for the wrongs done to a family. Underneath, the series is a story about navigating class relations to get your way, whether you’re situated in the bottom, the top, or somewhere in the middle of the hierarchy. In 19th century Europe though, class lines were thickly drawn. Gatekeeping was strongly maintained with written rules and laws (as well as unwritten understandings) enforced by authorities and those directly employed by the wealthy class. Penetrating the upper echelons of society required guile. Enter Lupin.
Assane Diop, the title character, played by Omar Sy (The Intouchables, Jurassic World), approaches his Lupin-like exploits with seeming joy, but his mission is quite serious. He sets out to expose the wealthy family and corrupt official who framed his father, Babakar, for a jewelry theft, which ultimately led to his imprisonment and death. The events set the trajectory for the young teenager’s life. While he maintains his father’s values to respect self and rules, he develops a distrust and disrespect of people with wealth, power, and authority who don’t do the same. So, stealing a necklace from the Musée du Louvre and “borrowing” a violin for his White girlfriend when the merchant refuses to rent to her because he is Black is not wrong; it’s justice.
The chief antagonist, Monsieur Pelligrini, played by Hervé Pierre, is the snobbish patriarch who casually uses his influence to steal lives and livelihoods to secure and insulate his wealth and power. Even so, this could not be done without the help of authorities in the middle class. In exchange for favors, Detective Gabriel Dumont, played by Vincent Garanger (A Cat in Paris, The Traveller), ushers through the big lie about Babakar from arrest to imprisonment, and tops it off by handing young Assane to social services.
The show moves in and out of fantastical drama to dark suspense as shady characters are introduced and commit heinous crimes. It also moves in and out of Assane’s experiences as a youth, from the time he realizes his attractiveness and charm to girls to the brashness these qualities breed even as a teen in boarding school. An avid reader of the Lupin novels, his mastery of the character’s tactics to unravel the mystery and circumstances of his father’s death is no surprise. He seems to realize the confidence is there; he only needs the strategy.
Most stories like this depict a loner wallowing in anger and taking revenge, wantonly inflicting injury on others. Far from a loner, Assane is amicably separated from his wife, Claire, played by Ludivine Sagnier, and very close to his teenage son, Raoul, played by Etan Simon. He is, however, obsessed with completing his mission, which keeps them from being together as a family. There is also Benjamin, his loyal, best friend from childhood. Played by Antoine Gouy, Benjamin is both Assane’s confidant and a constant in his life, also sharing a fascination for Lupin stories.
In many ways, the show is similar to The Avengers. No, not the Marvel movie. I am referring to the British spy television show that ran for eight years between 1961 and 1969. The series featured Agent John Steed, played by Patrick Macnee (A View to a Kill, The Howling), and Mrs. Peel, played by Diana Rigg (Game of Thrones, Doctor Who). The duo battled odd but wealthy, sci-fi like criminals with British grace while surrounded by the trappings of Britain’s wealthy class. Steed, always donning a suit, derby hat, and umbrella, frequently used these as weapons during his fighting escapades. Like the Avengers, Assane wears the persona of the wealthy class, and he seamlessly moves in and out of high society spaces as needed to zero in on the culprits.
Sometimes, getting a glimpse of other cultures allows us to see our own objectively. For viewers who haven’t been to France, the series gives us a look inside the Louvre and a sense of what it’s like to have a seat on the Seine River. Although a work of fiction produced for pure entertainment, Lupin also allows us to see the lasting damage that can occur when power and influence go unchecked, and corruption is allowed to fester. In addition to its virtual sightseeing and underlying themes, Lupin can be a fun watch.