Netflix Review: Lupin Part 1 (dans l'ombre d'Arsène)
Updated: Dec 4, 2021
Let's face it, Omar Sy is a gift! Whether it be in his breakout role as François Cluzet's caregiver in the 2011 smash hit Intouchables, or as the forgotten father in the recent Le prince oublié (The Lost Prince), he brings a joy and presence to the screen that is unmatched - and it's that same star quality which is required to sell the concept of this new streaming series inspired by the story of Lupin, the Gentleman-Thief.
As the world tunes into Netflix to find some comfort in these dark times, I'm incredibly grateful for this unexpected new release which turned up on my screen earlier this year. Not to be confused with the popular anime/manga, Lupin the Third, which follows the adventures of the gentleman burglar's grandson, this new series features an original character who draws their inspiration from Maurice Leblanc's classic series of novels.
In this reimagined version of Lupin, Omar Sy plays Assane Diop - an orphan who's spent most of his life trying to get by after his disgraced father committed suicide in prison. Having discovered that his father may not have been the disappointment he was led to believe, Assane sets an intricate plan in motion to avenge his father and clear his name, taking on the identity of the titular anti-hero from the book he'd been given growing up.
For those not familiar with the source material, Lupin originally came to life as a short story in the popular French science magazine Je sais tout (I Know All) during the early days of the pulp era in 1905. That first adventure, The Arrest of Arsène Lupin, seized the public's imagination, and Maurice Leblanc continued to chronicle his escapades across 17 novels and 39 novellas, forming a library of 24 complete books. Leblanc wrote one other Lupin-related book, The Secret Tomb, in which the main character Dorothée sets out to uncover one of the thief's four famous secrets.
The character of Arsène (similar to Assane) Lupin went on to enjoy a rich afterlife in the pages of five authorised sequels by the writing team of Boileau-Narcejac; along with a number of films, television series, comics, video games, stage plays, and stories by authors around the world. It would be fair to say that Maurice Leblanc's gentleman burglar became a global sensation, last appearing on television in the Philippines for an impressive series of 95 episodes in 2007! Which brings us to Lupin Part 1 ...
There's a lot to love about this latest spin on the timeless classic. I've already gushed over what a joy Omar Sy is - bringing a level of charisma and credibility to what could otherwise be an over-the-top caricature - but it's the overall casting and production values that really shine. I was especially pleased to see Ludivine Sagnier turn up as Lupin's long-suffering partner, Claire, as I've been a fan of her work since Petites coupures (Small Cuts) with Daniel Auteuil and Kristin Scott Thomas, through to the recent La forêt de mon père (Into Dad's Woods) which was a stand-out at last year's French Film Festival UK.
Alongside Sy and Sagnier, there's also an impressive debut from Etan Simon as their teenage son, Raoul. Like his father before him, Raoul is given a vintage edition of Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar, which begins his love affair with the stories of Maurice Leblanc - and it's this shared bond which strengthens the relationship between father and son, just as it had done once before. Simon has a difficult role as he needs to strike that delicate balance between the typical sullen teenage boy and the likeable, next-generation Lupin.
Also on the Lupin 'fanboy train' - which you see almost literally in the final episode (I'll say no more to avoid any spoilers) - is detective Youssef Guedira, portrayed by Soufiane Guerrab. Guedira seems to be the only one on the police force who can see through Assane's ruse, which makes for an interesting game of cat-and-mouse between the two characters.
Lupin Part 1 consists of five episodes, which run for just under an hour each, and the time simply flies by. I watched the first three episodes back-to-back in a marathon with my friend over Zoom, then watched the remaining two in another sitting, before starting it all over again. As much as the series holds up and provides excellent replay value - especially once you realise what is Assane is really up to - I was relieved to see the news that Lupin Part 2, comprised of another five episodes, would be out in time for Summer.
Lupin Part 1: dans l'ombre d'Arsène (In The Shadow of Arsène) stars Omar Sy, Ludivine Sagnier, Etan Simon, Hervé Pierre, Nicole Garcia, Vincent Londez, Shirine Boutella, Vincent Garanger, Sofiane Guerrab, Antoine Gouy, Clotilde Hesme, Anne Benoit, and Fargass Assandé. It is now streaming on Netflix (almost) worldwide, and I'd recommend watching the French version with subtitles where you can, as the dubbed version I've seen the trailer for leaves a lot to be desired.