“Lupin” feeds Netflix viewers’ foreign-series frenzy

Victoria Craig Jan 25, 2021
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Omar Sy, who plays Assane Diop in "Lupin," studies a computer screen in this production still from the Netflix series. Emmanuel Guimier/Netflix

“Lupin” feeds Netflix viewers’ foreign-series frenzy

Victoria Craig Jan 25, 2021
Heard on:
Omar Sy, who plays Assane Diop in "Lupin," studies a computer screen in this production still from the Netflix series. Emmanuel Guimier/Netflix
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Here’s an age-old question: What makes a TV show bingeable? Is it the suspense? The drama? Having a main character you can cheer on from the couch?

Sometimes it takes a while to find just the right combination, but according to Netflix viewers, French-language series “Lupin” has it all.

The streaming platform, in its earnings report last week, said the drama is set to rack up 70 million views in its first month. That would smash records previously set by this season’s fellow newcomers “Bridgerton” and “The Queen’s Gambit” by almost 10 million views.

“Lupin” is a series based on books written by French novelist Maurice LeBlanc, who dreamed up the character in 1905. He’s been dubbed the “gentleman’s thief,” and has drawn critics’ comparisons to Sherlock Holmes. The Netflix-produced modern take is the first to cast a Black actor in the main role, and is produced all in French.

But that hasn’t stopped non-native speakers from binging the five-show series. Netflix said “Lupin” took the top spot in Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Italy and Spain, and ranks second on the U.S. top-10 list.

Netflix’s chief content officer, Theodore Sarandos, called that milestone “an incredible evolution” for foreign-language TV and films.

“I think what happens is people say, ‘Hey, I don’t watch foreign-language television, but I’ve heard of this show called “Lupin” and I’m super excited to see it. And it’s included in my subscription.’ And 10 minutes later, all of a sudden, they like foreign-language television,” Sarandos said on the company’s earnings call.

Bottom line: What makes the show such a hit with global audiences, and is there life after five episodes?

One of the show’s directors, Marcela Said, shared her thoughts with the BBC’s Victoria Craig on the global edition of the “Marketplace Morning Report.”

Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Marcela Said: In France, [Omar Sy, who plays Assane Diop,] is like our star, the actor that the French people love the most. He is so charming, when you see him smiling. He can make you cry, he has so much emotion.

Victoria Craig: Now the show’s main character, he’s sort of a Sherlock Holmes type of character. He was dreamed up 115 years ago. So how did you make this series so relevant to the modern day?

Said: He’s really, really like an ordinary French guy, inspired by this character and is going to confront the world. So I think it’s a very modern story anyway.

Craig: Netflix and the French film industry have for years gone head to head. The Cannes Film Festival essentially blocked Netflix films from being screened a few years ago. What do you think has led to, not just acceptance of Netflix in the industry, but collaboration? And is there an appetite, do you think, for more of that?

Said: Netflix is working almost like a studio, and it is very appealing. And sometimes they can give you even more freedom than a producer, because they don’t have this money thing — like, we need to earn money, otherwise, you know, the film is not going to work. So they can take even more risks.

When you see a film like “Roma,” for example, the Mexican film, black and white, shot in [a cinematic style], telling his own story. I mean, this is also cinema, but in Netflix. And I think this is risky. This is audacious. This is good. This is showing to us, to the filmmakers, that Netflix, it can be a real partner for us.

Craig: And that global audiences are not just accepting but devouring films.

Said: And can you imagine — my last film is called “Los Perros.” Maybe 50,000 people watched the film. And now when you talk to me about 70 million people, watching my episodes, it means a lot of visibility, something that I never expected.

Craig: With that, though, as we’ve been sort of talking there have been plenty of challenges this year with the coronavirus crisis. I mean, the whole industry has suffered from that. Did you guys have to contend with any of that? And how did you work through it to deliver the show on time?

Said: Yeah, I was shooting my episode when COVID happened here. I had to keep on shooting, like two months later, with a protocol. We were one of the first shows shooting with COVID. So with the masks, with the doctors, with the temperature, with all these restrictions. It was hard. It was stressful. But still we could do it. And we had to change some of the scenes, but we could do it. That was good, also, to realize that even though we have COVID, we can still work, we can do our job anyway. This is a very difficult period for artists.

Craig: But the good news is fans are eager to devour the second season of your series. How long will they have to wait and what can they expect?

Said: I have no idea how long, but I can tell you that the next five episodes, they are already shot. You will have a lot of fun.

Craig: Can you give us any hints of what to expect in those five episodes?

Said: No, of course not. A lot of action, for sure. And emotion.

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