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When word got out that the set of the hit French-language Netflix series Lupin had been robbed, it was hard not to see the irony. The incident seemed ripped from the series itself, a contemporary spin on Maurice Leblanc’s classic novels about the gentleman thief Arsène Lupin. As first reported by AFP and Le Parisien, about 20 hooded individuals stormed the production in Nanterre, a western suburb of Paris, around 3:15 p.m. local time on Feb. 25, launching fireworks onto the set to sow havoc as they made off with around $330,000 worth of equipment and personal belongings. That no one had been hurt only emphasized the parallels with the series’ source material.
The theft occurred one day after robbers held up the set of Netflix’s The Crown, taking ornate props — including a replica Fabergé egg and antique candelabras — worth an estimated $200,000. Speculation abounded: Could the events have been related? Was the Lupin incident a copycat heist? Was Netflix being targeted by an international crime ring?
Police have made no arrests, and an investigation is ongoing. But one eyewitness’ account suggests that the robbery was a far less choreographed affair than previous reports implied.
“That’s a big word, ‘heist,'” laughs Brahim Rochdi, owner of Le 35, the restaurant in which a scene was being filmed that day. “You use that word for a bank robbery,” he says in an interview conducted in French. “What I saw was kids with firecrackers that showed up, that’s all.”
Rochdi, whose restaurant serves standard brasserie fare as well as North African specialties, was inside Le 35 when he heard pops going off on the sidewalk. “I didn’t realize [what was going on] at first,” he says. “I thought it was in the movie.” But for those outside, Rochdi says, it was “general panic.”
When he stepped out, Rochdi heard “fireworks going off left and right.” He rushed to bring the cast and crew inside Le 35. “The actor” — as Rochdi refers to the series’ lead, Omar Sy (The Intouchables, Jurassic World), perhaps France’s biggest movie star — “went into my office. He was safe in my office.”
A short, shaky Snapchat video taken by a bystander and reposted on Twitter confirms the chaotic nature of the scene. Amid a flurry of explosions that sounded like gunfire, several black-cad youths in balaclavas are seen shooting fireworks out of a tube and hauling off filming equipment including several black cases and a boom mic.
“From what I was told,” Rochdi says, “the maximum age [of the thieves] was 15, but there were some 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds.”
The Lupin production had spent several days in the neighborhood, a historically low-income area known as Pablo Picasso, or “Les Pablo.” The presence of the film crew — and particularly of Sy — had been a source of pride. Several locals had been hired as extras and nighttime security guards to watch the trailers. The previous day, a car chase was shot a few hundred yards from Le 35.
“It had all gone so well,” Rochdi says. “I don’t know why it ended up the way it did.”
Rochdi doesn’t believe the thieves were locals. “I don’t think people from the neighborhood want to destroy the reputation of the neighborhood,” he says. “In the old days, [Pablo Picasso] had a, let’s say, dodgy reputation. But it’s changing.”
Nor can he understand why anyone would want to target the Netflix show. “We all benefit from Netflix, especially during lockdown. I watched all of Lupin in one straight shot.” According to Netflix, the show’s first season was the seventh-most-successful non-English series in the streamer’s history.
In a statement, Netflix said, “Our cast and crew are safe and there were no injuries. We have now resumed filming,” providing no further details. Gaumont, which co-produces the series, declined to comment.
In the end, Rochdi says, “There was more fear than harm.”
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