How could the charismatic frontman of the new Netflix limited series Lupine-released last Friday and inspired by the exploits of the gentleman thief of Maurice Leblanc – maybe hiding in plain sight? Assane Diop (Omar Sy) is not only magnetic, but bewitching and also very tall. Even as he wraps the Louvre in his cleaning crew jumpsuit, he has presence, dominating his colleagues. He walks like a baseball player, and when he dons his slate gray Express suit on the night of the big caper, he looks less like Bond than Kenny “the Jet” Smith. You would certainly remember it if you had met him, and yet no one ever seems to. Even when, at some point in the series, he changes places with a much less beautiful and tall incarcerated person, it boils down to a question of a shift change. Lupine is outwardly a five-part heist, and Assane comically goes a long way on Rusty Ryan’s unwritten rules of deception: He manages to be precise but not memorable, he never uses seven words when four are enough. Omar Sy, however, is too charming to go unnoticed – it helps that you want to be fooled.
In the pilot episode, Assane plans and executes the central element of the series: The Queen’s Necklace, a MacGuffin with his own complicated lineage, from Western Europe with Napoleon on the Eastern Front with the Nazis and finally residing with the Pellegrinis, one of the richest and most influential families in all of France. It was stolen 25 years ago, when Assane’s father, Babakar, was working for the Pellegrini as a valet. Babakar is found hanged in his cell after being hastily sentenced for the crime, but for young Assane, it’s too clean. When the necklace reappears at auction – in a museum to which the Pellegrini are generous donors, nothing less – Assane assembles a team. In his usurer’s apartment. The sequence, from Assane hanging on the balcony to executing the shot while her new escape driver, muscles and oiler sit intently on the couch, takes about three minutes. It’s clear that Assane usually works alone, and it’s not about the money. The physicality and rules of the show are also conveniently set: As he tears the ominous venous arm of an obvious bodybuilder, we learn that Assane is as strong as he needs to be. At the end of the episode, we learn that even when he loses, he wins.
Lupine is inspired by Arsène Lupine, the cartoon by Maurice Leblanc mister burglar first serialized in I know everything magazine in 1905. He wore a stylish monocle and top hat (for the time) and only cared about the things that mattered, like making women smile and getting the last laugh. Plus, he was cunning enough to win any prize. Assane, who has a chip on his shoulder and a dubious penchant for paperboy caps, became a full-fledged fanboy in his private school years: he worn out the binding of a first edition of Leblanc that he had Many times. He scribbled all the margins and littered the pages with post-it notes.
The show’s decision to disclose its source material in such an obvious fashion seems somewhat limiting. The book is the inspiration of Assane, but also his method: he drew word for word some movements of Leblanc. Soufiane Guerrab is lost in the role of the young detective consumed by the case and spends most of this season pinning color prints of book covers onto cork boards and being dismissed by her colleagues, all of whom are blinded or otherwise hampered by careerism. As Luther, who looks like a spiritual predecessor, Lupine isn’t going to win any awards or even turn heads for its ability to develop tertiary or even secondary storylines or characters—As Luther, It is not really question. You are there to see a tough hero being tough and heroic – everyone is there to be charmed, upset, or eluded by him. Perhaps “effervescent” describes Assane better than “difficult” – where Idris Elba played DCI John Luther with vague annoyance and exquisite exhaustion, Sy’s performance comes off the screen and is almost musical. He floats through scenes as he glides over the rooftops and in the alleys of Paris; he foils his enemies with superior literary credentials and pure athleticism. He’s irresistible and good at everything he tries, even kidnapping. At one point, while set for an appearance on cable as a much older male, we learn that Assane is also a master of disguise. The reveal of this skill comes with a blink of an eye in the series, and there’s no point asking where he learned it, or how he afforded cinematic-grade latex and makeup. Or rather, asking the question seems wrong.
Watching the show I remembered Lupine the third part 5, the latest entry in the ongoing anime based on the manga written and illustrated by Monkey Punch, released in 2018. Canonically, the main character is the grandson of Leblanc’s fictional creation. In Part 5, Lupine III directly faces the advent of the smartphone, which has made everyone on Earth a cop-slash-expert-historian. Over the course of 24 episodes, a parade of disappointing villains shapes the role of the Internet as a whole, which in turn attempts to debunk and kill Lupine and his friends. Usually a show that allows for such impenetrable anime bullshit that one of Lupin’s companions comes from be a samurai, in its fifth part, Lupine the Third considers the existence of fan forums, CCTV, facial recognition, virality and scrolling to fill the void created by scrolling. How could a sighted, distinctive and self-proclaimed “legendary thief” who leaves business cards live and work these days? As it takes down its latest tech billionaire, the show concludes that even the deepest cynics need to believe in something, so why not heroes? Where is the fun not to be mystified?
So: Obviously it is not Michael the computer agent who hides in the enclosure at the beginning of episode 3. It is Assane. Even the commissioner, who should know everyone who works for him, doesn’t notice him under the thick-rimmed glasses. Maybe it’s the slightly hunched posture that keeps Assane going. a head over everyone in the building instead of two. It still works.