By Erin Waks
Since its premiere in January 2021, French mystery thriller Lupin has soared in success and popularity. Focused on the protagonist, Assane Diop, and his escapades into the realm of crime, the series demonstrates a profound ability to adapt the genre of a detective thriller into a modern context. The show brings to life the character of Arsène Lupin, a so-called ‘gentleman thief,’ and even depicts the deeply personal side to the character. Whilst it lacks the weight of more iconic shows in the genre – namely Sherlock – the show is a success story and a huge step forward for the French television industry.
Touching on universal and politically relevant themes, the series makes itself an essential watch for any 2021 audience. To commence, it is centred around a family of Senegalese immigrants. In keeping with current immigration trends in France, their treatment is poignantly handled; as second-class citizens, they are subject to mistrust, rarely given the benefit of the doubt. The resulting psychological effects are evident: Assane, avenging the death of his father, struggles with the way in which the family have been treated. The show clearly portrays the daily conditions in France, without being overtly political.
Additionally, the setting of Paris provides a perfectly beautiful and cosmopolitan backdrop. The robbery that takes place in the Louvre (perhaps one of the best scenes in the series) depicts the architectural aesthetic of the iconic building. Insofar as the show is set in realistic locations, it is evident that the Parisian setting makes for an element of reality, of excitement, and of the thrill. The show takes the city and spins it on its axis, rendering the drama and excitement of the show even more fast-paced set against the backdrop of the hustle of Paris.
Relationships in the show are just as energetic yet realistic. The father-son dynamic, romantic relationships and even minor interactions between secondary and tertiary characters are accurate, human and complex. The romantic relationship between Assane and his high-school sweetheart Claire shows particular skill in its creation.
Shown through a series of flashbacks in conjunction with more relaxed ‘current’ scenes, the depth of their bond is undoubtable. Through their communication and scenes together, the heartache and love between them is palpable. No one can deny their genuine affections, but their union is impossible – made all too clear by their individual realities. They are perhaps, in a sense, a perfect embodiment of what happens when two people love one another but just cannot be together.
Above all, we must congratulate the main actor, Omar Sy, for his magnificent performance. Known in France and globally for many key roles, notably as Driss in the award-winning Intouchables, Sy carefully portrays a character with two sides. He combines the role of a caring, affectionate father and partner with the more cutting edge of a thief. Perfectly encapsulated by the notion of a ‘gentleman thief,’ the oxymoronic aspects of the protagonist are vividly brought to life by Sy.
Overall, Lupin’s success can be explained down to its sheer energy. The actors, human relationships, setting and plot are vital, as well as its realism and politically charged context. And not to forget the remarkable camera, script and production work. Recommended to francophone and international audiences alike, the charm of the show is undeniable. It really is a 2021 must-see, and an excellent start for the television industry this year.
Image: Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons