When it comes to love stories, a tale about a woman falling in love with an inanimate object is likely not the prototypical narrative that comes to mind. As progressive and modernized as we might be, a film that eroticizes a relationship between a woman and a rollercoaster ride is certainly asking its audience to stretch their imagination. With Jumbo, Zoé Wittock asks audiences to do just that, with her oddly affecting take on the modern love story.
The film revolves around Jeanne (Noémie Merlant), an introvert who works at the local theme park in the machine maintenance department. One evening, while cleaning the park’s main attraction (a Ferris wheel-like roller coaster she name’s Jumbo), she begins communicating with the machine and eventually develops an affectionate relationship with it. For reasons that are clear to everyone but Jeanne, her new ‘relationship’ is met with both judgment and concern from those around her. The film also features performances from Emmanuelle Bercot, Sam Louwyck and Bastien Bouillon.
What’s most striking about Jumbo is the commanding performance by Noémie Merlant, who continues to impress following her breakout role in Portrait of a Lady on Fire last year. She definitely has a commanding presence on screen, yet not in an overly intrusive way. Despite playing a character that may seem forcefully isolating to audiences on paper, her portrayal is one that is surprisingly relatable. Even though it might be difficult to relate to Jeanne in a literal sense, Merlant’s performance makes it easy to relate to the character’s inner narrative on an emotional level. It’s perhaps the primary reason why the film is able to produce such an affecting narrative.
On a visual level, Jumbo’s expressions are mainly depicted through the flickering of its multi-coloured light bulbs, but in a way that is void of any real pattern or internal logic. This was likely a calculated move in order to maintain the focus of the film on Jeanne’s emotional connection with the inanimate machine. However, it would have certainly been an interesting complement to the narrative. The scenes involving any intimacy between Jeanne and Jumbo are also handled in a visually-apt fashion, with the film escaping its generally muted cinematography at just the right moments. These scenes are also unexpectedly romantic.
Given the oddities of not only the story, but the entire cast of characters as well, one does wonder if Jumbo might have been better suited as a comedy with dramatic elements. In its current from, where the comedic moments are secondary to what is clearly a dramatic narrative, the film did feel out of place at times. Not to the point where it diminishes the film’s overall impact, but a slight shift in genre might have added more narrative cohesion to Jumbo.
In short, Jumbo is certainly not your typical love story. A disclaimer at the beginning of the film states that the film is based off of real events, and additional production notes point to a woman in France who legally wedded the Eiffel Tower as one of the primary inspirations for the film. While the grander nature of this movement (termed ‘object sexuality) is interesting, it’s never mentioned directly in the film. In fact, even though Jeanne’s behaviour hints at some form of mental illness, that is never labeled either. This all works for the film’s benefit as it allows the story to focus on the power of acceptance, rather than the peculiarities of being different. Wittock really uses the film as a vessel to explore how we should embrace love in all its forms, even if it doesn’t fit our own prescribed definition of the term. Whether it’s love for a machine or your own daughter, the limits of what love is and how to love are questioned throughout the film. Jumbo a powerful examination of acceptance, and one of the most interesting love stories in recent years.