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Omar Sy's Lupin Pays Homage To A Famous French Crime Novel Character

The "gentleman burglar" gets a contemporary twist.

Netflix

The subject of 17 novels and numerous TV and film adaptations, Maurice Leblanc’s "gentleman burglar" Arsène Lupin is a well-known character in French pop culture. His latest iteration can be found in the Netflix show Lupin, which stars Omar Sy as a reimagined version of the titular thief. In the wake of his father's wrongful arrest and death, Sy's character Assane Diop takes on the Lupin mantle to avenge him. Similar to Leblanc's character, Sy's Arsène Lupin is not a real person, but he does pay homage to Leblanc's legacy.

While his works may be unfamiliar to audiences outside of France, Leblanc has long been a respected author in his home country. Per a 1941 New York Times article, Leblanc was born in 1864 in Rouen, France, and moved to Paris in 1887 to become a journalist. He wrote a weekly series of short stories, but Leblanc didn't really find widespread success until 1906, when an editor of a new journal, Je Sais Tout, asked him to write a crime short story. According to David Drake's "Crime Fiction at the Time of Exhibition," Sherlock Holmes mania was just hitting France, and the editor wanted Leblanc to write the French equivalent, in the hopes that journal sales would skyrocket.

So Leblanc quickly wrote "The Arrest of Arsène Lupin," which followed steamship passenger Bernard d’Andrézy, who divides his time between flirting with a woman and spearheading efforts to find out which passenger is actually the notorious thief Lupin. The twist at the end reveals that Bernard was Lupin the whole time, and he stole numerous valuables while misdirecting everyone.

Readers were immediately drawn to the "eccentric gentleman" burglar who was a "man of a thousand disguises." (As Drake pointed out, in 1905 people were already familiar with the concept of the well-dressed "gentleman burglar" because of the real-life case of clever anarchist and thief Alexandre Marius Jacob.) In 1907, Leblanc published Arséne Lupin, Gentleman Burglar, his first novel-length collection of Lupin short stories. As time went on, Leblanc shifted Lupin's motives so that he was less of a burglar and more of a detective who worked to fix the police force's blunders behind their backs. He really did become the French equivalent to Sherlock Holmes, a fact that Leblanc riffed off of when he included a character named "Herlock Sholmes" in a later story.

Leblanc's Lupin novels were so successful that he dedicated the rest of his career to being an author. He continued to publish Lupin stories into the 1930s; Leblanc died in 1941, but his character's popularity lived on. Lupin has been the subject of a number of films, including a 1916 silent movie, several films in the 1930s and 1940s, and even some Japanese adaptations in the 1950s. (Most notably, the popular manga and anime character Lupin III is supposed to be the grandson of Arsène Lupin.) Lupin's tales were also adapted for TV numerous times, and he was played by Georges Descrières in 1971, François Dunoyer in 1995, and is set to be adapted in yet another upcoming show by Jalil Lespert, per L'Express.

Unlike these past iterations, however, it appears that Sy's Lupin is not meant to be Leblanc's original character. In the trailer, Assane is shown holding an actual Lupin book, which he tells his son was handed down to him by his grandfather. Eventually a detective begins to link Assane's "method, panache, style, and talent" to Lupin's own adventures. Sy may not actually be Arsène Lupin — similar to how Lashana Lynch was 007 but not James Bond — but it is a nice way for the show to honor Leblanc's contributions to French culture.