Lupin: One of Netflix’s Best Foreign Series

  • May 7, 2021
Omar Sy plays the suave and clever Assane Diop in this French mystery-thriller series

Foreign films and television shows are rarely in my Netflix queue, but I had to make an exception for the 5-episode French miniseries Lupin. The show is easy to binge-watch and constantly exciting, leaving you desperately wanting more by the end (which Netflix seems to understand because they are currently working on a second season!).

The show revolves around Assane Diop, the French son of a Senegalese immigrant who was imprisoned for stealing a diamond necklace from his wealthy employer. His father hung himself in prison out of shame, orphaning Assane and beginning his personal vendetta against the people who he believes framed his father. He doesn’t exactly know who those people are, but he’s built his entire life around finding out the truth, imitating the style and tactics of the famous (fictional) French gentleman thief Arsène Lupin in his pursuit of justice.

The show is creative from the start. First of all, instead of creating a Sherlock-esque show centered around a live-action depiction of Lupin (which has already been done), Lupin’s serialized adventures become the inspiration for the events that ensue. It is also written in such a way that there is almost always something happening that the audience doesn’t know about. It is constantly subverting expectations, making you think one thing and then revealing that things are the opposite of what they seem. The whole plot revolves around Assane’s efforts to solve the mystery, but the way in which he becomes someone else to get information and further his quest is incredible and exhilarating to watch.

But Lupin is also not just a one-dimensional revenge fantasy. Many larger messages are skillfully woven into the story about a gentleman thief in Paris. For example, the show explores the division between the haves and the have nots, specifically when it comes to the immunity of the wealthy. Assane’s poor beginnings and modest adult life are contrasted with the immense fortune of the Pelligrini family (who become antagonistic to Assane’s mission). The excessively lavish lifestyle and the family’s subsequent inability to be harmed by any of their past actions make a statement about who really has power. Even more significant is the perspective the show takes on racism in France. Throughout the series, Assane (being born in France but also of African descent) is the target of many subtle racist comments and misconceptions. In fact, it is implied that he is able to blend in so much and do his work covertly in part because few people will pay attention to him due to his race, and, if they do, they don’t see him as a distinct human being (just as a black person). From this, many parallels can be drawn between American society and French society, which is interesting because racism is often considered an American issue (at least in the US). In that sense, while a fictional thriller series shouldn’t be the only source of information about this aspect of France, it also offers insight into French culture and society.

Overall, every episode of Lupin is beautifully crafted. The concept is original and the writing is exceptional for the most part. They spend time developing the characters, depicting the different worlds that Assane is part of (for example, while being a criminal, he is also a father trying to be there for his son). The plot is a brilliant combination of action, excitement, mystery, emotion, and suspense that builds as those different worlds collide. This is propelled by the great acting, especially the show’s lead, Omar Sy, who is charismatic and versatile, easily being able to become everything the script needs him to become. Many Netflix Original shows that I’ve seen seem to have at least one actor who doesn’t fully embody the character they are portraying or just seems wooden. With Lupin there are no such instances. The dramatic soundtrack (composed by Mathieu Lamboley) is also amazing- the type of music that is perfect for the show but that you would also listen to independently.

With that being said, there are a few things that probably detracted from the show somewhat when I watched it. Firstly, viewers have a choice between watching the original performance and watching it dubbed over in English (and other languages). When you watch it dubbed over, it makes for some hilarious incongruities between a character’s actions in the show and the inflection and tone of their voice. However, the English voiceovers are decent and it usually doesn’t take away from the show too much, although there is also the option to watch it with just English subtitles if necessary. Secondly, there are admittedly several minor plot holes and some times where the audience must suspend their disbelief (a scene where an auctioneer only checks Wikipedia to verify someone’s identity comes to mind). But they are relatively insignificant in the long run, and the show is meant to entertain the audience as we follow Assane’s journey, so, since it does so extremely well, perhaps perfection should not be where the bar is set.

The show is rated TV-MA, which means it is suitable for “mature audiences only” according to Netflix. This may in part be because of minor swearing that occurs, but is probably mostly due to the fact that they depict death by hanging on three separate occasions, which may be disturbing to some viewers. But, if you’re not put off by those darker images and are looking for something enjoyable to help you momentarily escape the stress and fear of the pandemic, Lupin will surely enthrall you.

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