Saturday, 23 January 2021

From lockdown in Paris John Baxter remembers the great actor Jean-Pierre Bacri and heartily recommends the Netflix hit LUPIN (Created by George Kay, France, 2020)

Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri

         Among recent Covid victims was the actor Jean-Pierre Bacri, his health already depleted by a long fight with cancer. Frequently in concert with Agnes Jouai, he created some memorable characters, in particular the bourgeois factory owner in Le Gout des Autres,  infatuated with an actress, who tries to widen his horizons but is snubbed by her and her supposedly enlightened friends, and Didier, which cast him and Alain Chabat as,  respectively, a sports agent and (stay with me here) a dog miraculously transformed into a gifted footballer.  Worth seeing just for the scene where he tries to explain to Chabat about underpants. 



         Netflix, relishing the lock-down boom in streaming, has plastered Paris with posters for its all-time biggest hit, the five-part Lupin,  starring Omar Sy, the actor of Senegalese and Mauritian parents who hit the big time as the genial caregiver in the 2011 Intouchables.The idea of featuring him in a riff of Maurice Leblanc’s early 20thcentury tales of gentleman thief Arsène Lupin is down to British writer George Kay, a graduate of Killing Eve and the innovative Criminal, another Netflix series,which documents the questioning of suspects in various European cities, but always in the same generically featureless interrogation suite.         

         Lupin has none of this austerity, but bears some comparisons with the quirky post-post-modern Sherlock of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss the producers of Lupin call the series “a hybrid of SherlockLuther and Ocean’s Eleven. ”Lupin and Sherlock both use elements from the original stories but transpose them to a modern setting. Critics of Lupin, which carries the subtitle “in the shadow of Arsène”, have decried these liberties, while supporters cite Raymond Chandler’s comment about the Holmes stories, that they amount to “mostly an attitude and a few dozen lines of unforgettable dialogue." With so little written in stone, Leblanc’s tales, like those of Conan Doyle,  almost invite improvisation. 

         The modern Lupin is Assane Diop, whose father died in prison after being framed for the theft of a diamond necklace by his employer, Hubert Pelligrini.  An adult Assane sets out to revenge him, inspired by a collection of the Leblanc stories bequeathed by his father. 

Omar Sy, Lupin

         Like the original, Diop’s Lupin is a master of disguise and an accomplished burglar, with a preference for stealing jewels. (How he acquired this expertise is left vague – perhaps in anticipation of later episodes.) Lupin  begins with a spectacular theft at the Louvre, inspired by one of the best-known Leblanc stories, The Queen’s Necklace, but after that the characters diverge.  The original, a loner, has one confidante, Victoire, his former nourice  or wet nurse,  whom he visits in the country for solace and reflection. He also has a new lady for each story, while Diop has only Claire, his estranged partner (Ludivine Sagnier), with whom he has a son, and Benjamin (Antoine Gouy), a pal from his school days, whom he sets up as an antique dealer and fence. He’s opposed, naturally, by a perceptive policeman, Guédira (Soufiane Guerrab) who wonders why the names of so many suspects in recent crimes are anagrams of “Arsène Lupin” – a theory derided by colleagues, who sneer “Let us know if you find any clues in Harry Potter.” 

Omar Sy in disguise as a Louvre janitor, Lupin

         Sy makes an engaging central character, not unlike Dwayne Johnson in his ability to use humour and charm to soften the effect of his physical strength and size.  He’s convincing in scenes that require compassion, in particular those with ageing journalist Fabienne Beriot (Anne Benoit) and Comet, a dying informant (Francois Creton) who gives up a vital clue in return for Diop’s promise that “you will make my wife smile.” (In one of the better scenes in this first series, we watch him use that same charm when he cons a woman out of her jewels.) 

         Devotees of police procedurals, however, will have a hard time with Lupin. Its egregious offences against credibility rival even those of the Oceans and Mission:Impossible franchises. Pelligrini’s minions and the police puff along in Diop’s wake, outwitted at every turn by his effortless inventiveness, agility and strength. The fifth episode ends on a cliff-hanger set at one of the iconic Leblanc settings, the cliffs at Etretat in Normandy where, in the original, Lupin keeps his spoils in a secret eyrie, but we never doubt that, in this world of comic-book crime, Diop will don Arsène’s trademark top hat and monocle,  glue on a false moustache and, with one of his broad smiles, save the day.  Why should we be surprised? As Oscar Wilde said, “The good end happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.” If you’re looking for reality, just open a window.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.