The clever magic tricks that make ‘Lupin’ great
“Don’t tell me the truth.” The request is particular but no more so than the situation – and the man who asks. Assane Diop is at sea. The odds are growing against him, and his confidante points out how dire things are. Diop, who is played by unfairly cool frontman Omar Sy, seems hurt by this reality check. “You are my best friend,” he explains. “Comfort me. Don’t tell me the truth. The truth, after all, is malleable and unpleasant to Diop, something he bends and something he avoids. This cloak-and-dagger hero may be the liar the most. sweeter than television.
One of Netflix’s greatest hits, the French series Lupine tells the story of a gentleman thief who follows in the footsteps of Auguste Lupin, an extraordinary character concocted by writer Maurice Leblanc in the early 1900s. Instead of making a show about Lupin, this adaptation by George Kay and François Uzan inventively focuses on a man who loves Lupin’s books to such a perilous degree that he considers them bibles. He commits elaborate and damn brazen Lupin-style crimes, and the only person close to catching him is another Lupin admirer who recognizes the tributes.
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This approach – removing a top hat from the gentleman thief without ever claiming to represent him – is a brilliant trick, allowing an audience who may not know Arsene Lupin to cheer on the hero Lupin nonetheless. We recognize the passion of being a fan.
The first five episodes were released in January, and the well-heeled and scrupulously polished criminal won over subtitle-wary audiences to become the most-watched Netflix series this year. The second set of five episodes came to us last week, and I’m happy to report Lupine, like a beautiful leather-bound hardback book, remains as satisfying as it is stylish. The show feels both ancient and authentically modern – both timeless and timely – and it’s really hard not to smile onscreen as the plot unfolds.
The smile is because we know it’s a lark. The plot – for all its twists and turns and the meticulous organization of twists and flashbacks – demands only one thing from the viewer: an avid suspension of disbelief. Like the audience at a magic show watching artists work mirrors and angles and get applause for flashy little miracles, we want to believe that this ineffably elegant man can stroll through a museum and steal a priceless painting at will, and return it as discreetly as he wishes. . Pleasure outweighs plausibility.
This set of episodes sees Diop on the run, first to retrieve his kidnapped son, then on the run from the police in Paris as a fugitive wanted for murder, but our hero continues to find time for the niceties and to set up a future sleight of hand. We see more of Diop as a young boy improving as a “gentleman thief,” with each episode’s ongoing narrative marching in step with a flashback, lessons from the past coming to fruition all too well in the present. This sharpness is almost unnerving, the predictable closeness of the loop out of place among today’s fractured TV narratives, but the self-contained nature of each episode, constrained by setups and callbacks, works well for Lupin’s attempt to deliver a more nostalgic pleasure.
“Aren’t you a little too old?”, a man asks a growing boy reading one of Lupin’s books – a book where Lupine takes on a version of another literary icon, here named Herlock Sholmes – and the boy turns to him in despair. The idea that one could be considered too old for a good adventure story is heartbreaking. Parts of Mathieu Lamboley’s exuberant background music in Lupine reminiscent of the theme of Ray Parker and Tom Szczesniak from the old animated series Tintin. This show evokes the elusive thrill of being young and discovering an engrossing thread, a sensational story with rapacious villains, overwhelming odds, and a hero that’s too good to be true.
Where to start with Omar Sy? He is, above all, the extremely rare leading man who can carry smugness with grace. He can make eye contact with a woman and smile in assured inevitability as she walks up to him, but it doesn’t seem forced or narcissistic or undeserved. Sy gives Diop a stealthy, buttery smoothness, which serves the frequently camouflaged character well as he moves from character to character, altering body language. Always slippery, always elegant.
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Lupine ostensibly shows how a black man – even this imposing and remarkably tall man – can find anonymity in a city like Paris by quickly disguising himself as a working man and not looking at himself. A disappearing act isn’t always magic, though this well-crafted series, where Sy twists his cufflink into place as he strides toward the climax, is all about tricks and flair.
Lupine contains a lot of narrative magic, but more than that, it delights in opening the curtain to show the audience how the illusion is achieved. Therein lies the real gist of the show: the explanation of how a painting is stolen (or not) is even more absurd, even wackier than the heist in question, but it evokes the illusion of a “ah! moment. Confidence is its own thrill, a secret satisfaction. Everything else is done with mirrors.
Stream of Stories is a column about what to watch online. Raja Sen is a film critic and author of The best baker in the world (2017), a children’s adaptation of The Godfather.