VIFF 2020 Review: Jumbo

A carnival ride is the object of desire of Jeanne (played by Noemie Merlant) in Jumbo.

I ended my VIFF with the French film Jumbo. It was part of the Altered States slate. I agree the film was something else!

The film begins in an amusement park in a French city. Jeanne Tantois is the park custodian. Her job over there is just her labor. She has a fascination with many of the rides there, but she doesn’t get along well with too many of the men that she works with. She’s a young girl who lives with her parents. Her mother Margarette wonders when she will find the right boy. At home, she creates things like celestial ceiling images or mobiles consisting of a lot of LED lights. There in her room, she lets her imagination run free. She even has a belief that objects have souls, even moving motorized objects.

One day, a new ride comes to the amusement park. It’s a 25-foot tall ride set to accommodate 32 at a time. Jeanne cleans the light bulbs, but soon notices the ride, named ‘Jumbo,’ is communicating with her. She’s surprised by it all. Jumbo offers her a ride. She accepts with her riding alone, and she appears to enjoy it in an erotic sense. Over time, she has gotten to have a closer liking to Jumbo. Jumbo communicates with her: green lights for yes, red for no. Soon her liking for Jumbo isn’t just simple. It’s intimate.

Not everybody is accepting upon hearing Jeanne’s love for this carnival ride. The other teens from her school including a group of boys poke fun at her. Her boss and the head custodian look at her with huge suspicion or something’s wrong with her. Margarette meets Jumbo, rides him, and is shocked that she could be attracted to an object. However it takes a lot of convincing to her mother that her attraction to Jumbo is real and is her everything.

The relationship between her and Jumbo grows. One night she lays down on Jumbo and his oils enter into her almost as if a sexual pleasure. Then the workers at the amusement park are given awards for the best services. Jeanne is given an award for her services with the bullying boys watching from the back. Then the shocking news. Jumbo will no longer be at the amusement park. Jeanne is devastated. Even more so when she learns Jumbo will be transported to an amusement park in Belgium. Her boss makes it clear it’s her attraction to Jumbo that caused their decision. That leaves Jeanne no other choice. She must marry Jumbo before he’s taken away. Margarette and her stepfather are willing to assist her in the marriage. The two perform the rites as both Jumbo and Jeanne accept. All three go for one last ride and get off in time before the bullying boys from her school can get them.

Now there have been films about people having feelings of love to objects in the past. However this is something unique as it’s of a young female with an attraction to a carnival ride. This could have come across as a dumb story. However there is such a thing as objectophilia. Writer Zoe Wittock learned of a story of a Florida woman who was in so love with a carnival ride, she tried to marry it. Even then, to make it believable, it required that from a believable character. Jeanne is that character. She herself is a dreamer who likes to draw and is fascinated by lights and stars. She even mentions at the beginning of her belief that objects have souls of their own. It was necessary for her to say something like that for her objectophilia to be believable.

Even with the imagination, the film had to make Jumbo come alive as well. If Jeanne sees the soul inside Jumbo, we the audience have to see it too. It works as we see Jumbo come to life whenever Jeanne is around and when Jeanne conveys her emotions and feelings. Plus right at the end, Jeanne’s mother and stepfather have to see Jumbo’s soul for themselves in order for Jeanne to marry it. As bizarrely erotic this story is, it needs to have the scenes to make us believe it and the characters to make it work. And it does.

Top credit goes to writer/director Zoe Wittock. Before Jumbo, she wrote and directed four short films. Jumbo is her first feature-length film. It’s also marks her return to film work after a five-year hiatus. A woman sexually attracted to a carnival ride looks like the premise for a bad movie or something completely freakish. Zoe, however, is able to make it work with the story and making the story of Jeanne’s love believable and also giving character to the ride. Additional credit should go to Noemie Merlant. It’s also the believability of Noemie’s performance that keeps Jumbo from being dismissed as a stupid movie. She made the objectophilia believable and not look as freaky as one would anticipate. It’s very surprising to see her play a completely different character than Marianne from Portrait Of A Lady On Fire as well as a different time period. There’s also excellent acting from Emmanuelle Bercot as the mother who has to struggle to accept her daughter’s objectophilia and in the end be encouraging to Jeanne in marrying Jumbo.

Jumbo appears like a film that would not win too many awards on the film festival circuit, but it has won one and has received nominations. It won Best Feature Film at the Chattanooga Film Festival, nominated for a New Direction award at the Cleveland Film Festival, nominated for a Best First Feature Award at the Philadelphia Film Festival, a New Visions Award nominee at the Sitges – Catalonian Film Festival and Best International Film at the Jeongju Film Festival.

Jumbo has what would first be dismissed as a ridiculous story. What made it work was the actors making the story and the bizarreness believable as we watch.

And there you have it! That’s the last of my film reviews of this year’s VIFF! my wrap-up of this year’s Festival is coming soon!

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