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Lupin transcends its source material to make something relevant

  • "Before Arsène Lupin was the inspiration for an out-of-nowhere Netflix smash hit, projected to be watched by 70 million subscribers, the character was a French literary legend, a gentleman thief with the moral code of Robin Hood, the wits of Sherlock Holmes, and the anti-aristocratic instincts of Robespierre," says Sophie Gilbert. "In the 1906 story The Queen’s Necklace, one of Maurice Leblanc’s first outings for the character, his origins are explained: Lupin’s first robbery was staged when he was 6 years old, after witnessing his mother, an impoverished gentlewoman, being ill-treated by her monied employer. The necklace the child managed to pinch also features in the first episode of Lupin, in which a janitor working at the Louvre stages a dazzling heist inspired by his fictional hero. Both crimes are audacious, seemingly impossible, and conducted with a strong amount of swagger: Lupin might be a master of disguise, but he’s also a peacock who learns to play on his notoriety as often as he makes himself invisible. As adaptations go, Lupin is close to perfect. Rather than directly translate the character to television, the writer George Kay imagines Lupin as the inspiration for a 21st-century con artist named Assane (played by Omar Sy), whose history mirrors Lupin’s and whose balancing act as a moralistic thief is given extra depth by his race. At the Louvre, dressed in a formless jumpsuit and clutching a box of cleaning products, Assane blends in among the other janitors—people of color like himself—vacuuming carpets and taking out the trash. But in the same scene, when he shifts into his next character, an entrepreneur attending an auction, Assane saunters into the museum resplendent in a purple suit, smiling broadly and nodding hello to all the wealthy white patrons around him. The con relies on his conspicuousness in some circles as much as it does on his ability to be unseen." Gilbert adds: "The thrill of heist stories has always come from both a willing suspension of morality and an internal reorientation of what it means to be a hero or a villain. Crime dramas are escapist; few Netflix viewers are going to be plundering the Louvre anytime soon. But Lupin’s trick is that the confrontation it forces isn’t just between cops and robbers. It’s between an orphan and a social hierarchy built on dirty money and immaculate manners, in which a diamond necklace can be a work of art but also a symbol of European aristocratic corruption through the ages. (In the show, the Queen’s necklace passes from the court of Louis XVI to Napoleon to czarist Russia to the Third Reich.) Assane, whose victims are the same wealthy men and women who despoiled his childhood, isn’t just a worthy heir to Lupin. He’s also a righteous and timely reconfiguration of what it means to be a French hero."


    • Lupin star Omar Sy and director Louis Leterrier, who are neighbors in Los Angeles, explain how they made a French show that resonates internationally: “We made the series with the mechanisms of cinema and the mechanisms of cinema are that of technique,” says Sy. “We have a Hollywood director who brings their touch to French television, allowing us to tell this story in this way, and that plays a big part.” Leterrier adds: "I feel that Omar and myself started our careers not wanting to make any waves, wanting to entertain. But ultimately, the world has gotten so hard and so unfair and the injustice is so obvious and so brutal that we couldn’t stay silent any more.”
    • What makes Lupin so fun is its ability to get away with plot contrivances that wouldn't usually work: "Now, granted, even to bring this up is some mega-Debbie Downer content, and I apologize," says Shane Ryan. "I just feel it’s necessary to put this show in its proper context before I begin praising it in earnest. The fact is, the show’s directors and writers revel in cool set pieces set up by sleight-of-hand, but you must be warned that they absolutely do not care how they get there, and feel very little compunction to explain themselves when it’s all over. I can’t tell if it’s audacious or just kinda lazy, but it leaves gaping chasms where at least a semblance of reality should be. If you have that obnoxious part of your brain that balks at these narrative conveniences, sit down and settle your differences now, because to enjoy Lupin on its merits means suspending the hell out of all your various disbeliefs."
    • Here are six reasons why Lupin is so compelling

    TOPICS: Lupin, Netflix, Louis Leterrier, Omar Sy