Initially premiering at Sundance Film Festival back in 2020, Jumbo finally has its UK premiere at this year’s virtual Glasgow Film Festival. While high on my watch list due to the lead being Portrait of a Lady on Fire‘s fantastic Noémie Merlant, the quirky entry is an unexpectedly tender exploration of finding love and happiness in the strangest of places.
Directed by Zoé Wittock, Jumbo centres on the painfully shy Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) who still lives with her mother (Emmanuelle Bercot) while working maintenance at the local amusement park. Jeanne is instantly captivated by the park’s latest arrival, a 25 foot tall metallic spinning rollercoaster ride. Despite Jumbo literally lighting up her life in the night shift, Jeanne also finds affection from her boss Marc (Bastien Bouillon). While the romance blossoms between her and Jumbo in the darkness, her mother encourages the connection with Marc – but will this bring her happiness?
While Wittock could easily have leant into the more mocking route with Jumbo, the director handles the topic of objectophilia in a respectful and surprisingly moving way. The film feels like a uniquely surreal (and at times erotic) fairytale, exploring how connections are formed and our propensity to search for love. It’s clear that Jeanne is deeply alone, preferring to spend time in the haven of her bedroom with her small scale attractions, due to her less than perfect home life.
The absence of a father figure, along with a mother who seems more interested in her own love life than looking after her, has clearly had an impact on Jeanne’s ability to form connections. Her mother even remarks that her vibrator would have made a better father. That’s until she’s swept away by the pulsating neon lights and stiff appendages of the rollercoaster, leading to a rare and thrilling connection.
Noémie Merlant is once again outstanding in a similar role exploring forbidden love, bringing a real nuance and empathy to the role. She completely sweeps us along in Jeanne’s fascinating journey of self-discovery and sexual awakening, who truly comes alive when conversing with the ride at night, away from the crowds of judgemental humans. Jeanne’s journey to overcome adversity and be with Jumbo unlocks an endearing strength in the once painfully quiet young adult, particularly as she confronts her mother’s harsh views.
Cinematographer Thomas Buelens excels in creating a distinct visual style, illustrating the magical whirlwind romance with pulsating neon lights and bursts of reds, greens and blues. As the two finally ‘connect’, Buelens does a fantastic job of bringing the metaphysical joining to life with an erotic scene dripping with desire and oil, distinctly framed against a stark white background.
Noémie Merlant shines in Jumbo, an impressively unique modern fable exploring sexuality and rare connections. The daring cinematography and tender approach elevates the film from a typical festival indie darling.