Emmanuel Guimier / Netflix
The French love their pop culture, but they’ve never been the best at exporting it. Take the case of Arsène Lupine, the thief gentleman created by novelist Maurice Leblanc in 1905. Lupin’s adventures gave birth to countless French books, films and television series, but until a few months ago, the Most of the people I know had never even heard of him.
That changed with the arrival of the Netflix series Lupine, an international success of crazy energy whose second season falls on June 11. Created by British screenwriter George Kay, this French series does for the genius Parisian thief what the series Sherlock made for the world’s greatest consultant detective. This makes it contemporary. Kay took a musty-smelling pop franchise and gave it a 21st century whirlwind – her hero is now black, not white.
The charismatic Omar Sy plays Assane Diop, the son of a falsely imprisoned Senegalese immigrant who gave him Arsène Lupine’s novels to read when he was little. Using them as a sort of instruction manual, Assane grew up to be a crime virtuoso and a master of disguise who like Robin Hood or Roger Moore in The Saint, breaks the law but manages to stay on the side of the angels. He and his longtime sweetheart Claire (Ludivine Sagnier) have a teenage son, Raoul, whom they both adore.
Season 1 began with Assane who had a dazzling heist at the Louvre. He hopes this robbery will help track down the criminals who set up his father. It does, and as the cops breathe down his neck, Assane continues to search for new leads, a process that requires escapes and assorted kidnappings. These shenanigans involve everyone, from a corrupt police top hat to an embittered investigative journalist to Hubert Pellegrini, a sinister tycoon played with scuzzy delight by Hervé Pierre.
At the start of Season 2, the net tightens more and more around Assane. Not only did one of Pellegrini’s thugs kidnap his son, but he was found by a cop who is also a big fan of Arsene Lupine. Once the villains also start to put pressure on Claire, it seems impossible that Assane can escape all those who pursue him.
But, of course, we know it will. One of the reasons Arsene Lupine first became popular is because he’s a pleasurable fantasy of shapeshifter shine. The show gives us the thrill of watching Assane come out of seemingly inescapable situations by typing a fake mustache, doing a mysterious computer trick, or pulling off a ridiculously complicated plan that requires 10 things to go right – which, of course, is. , they all do. This is not a show for die-hard realists. It’s a confection that offers speed, cool sets, good acting and a very winning performance from Sy, a tall and handsome man who exudes such warmth, benevolence and spirit that we are always by his side. .
Now, changing the race of a well-known hero is tricky. If you want a Black James Bond, for example, it’s not enough to cast, say, Idris Elba. You either have to pretend that his race wouldn’t matter in Eton and Her Majesty’s Secret Service – which would be laundering – or you have to find a good way to make Bond’s darkness into the story.
By updating the Lupine Saga, Kay understood that having the Dark Hero would make the story richer and more of our moment. For starters, the series plays on the fact that black people are so often invisible to the white majority. One of the reasons Assane’s disguises work so well is that when he disguises himself as a janitor or delivery man, the people he cheats don’t see him as an individual who matters. It is just part of the background.
And although he wears his policy very lightly, Lupine runs through a racial conscience, whether it’s a fanatical shop owner trying to ruin young Assane or an old woman chatting about the glories of colonialism. It is no coincidence that the vile racist Pellegrini hides his gangsterism behind a patriotic foundation supposed to defend multiculturalism.
It is also no coincidence that the cop who seizes the link between Assane and the first Lupine is himself of Moroccan origin. Without making much of it, Lupine embraces the irony that in their love and knowledge of the great thief gentleman of France, these two cultural strangers are actually more French than French. And in what may be an even more telling irony, this is the Black Lupine the world is now familiar with.