Scream if you wanna go faster!
In 2004, competitive archer, and Olympic gold medal winner, Erika Labrie, got married. In a ceremony of commitment, she took her partners surname, and now goes by Erika Eiffel. Now this was a very high-profile celebrity coupling. Of course, because we’re talking about an Olympic medallist, but also because of her partner. As she wed, if you’ve already guessed, the Eiffel Tower. She’s since become an advocate for “Objectum Sexuality” – the name for those who feel some sort of attraction towards inanimate objects.
Not willing to believe this, director Zoé Wittock, met with Labrie, and after being convinced, in part fuelled the basis of her debut feature, Jumbo. With it, we’re introduced to Jeanne, played by Noémie Merlant – who is completely unrecognisable from her role in last year’s critical favourite Portrait of a Lady on Fire. An awkward, lonely teen, she’s dropped off at school by her overbearing and sexually oversharing mother (Emmanuelle Bercot), only to be received by a squad of bullying classmates. At night, she retreats to her job at a nearby theme park. There she deals with Hubert (Sam Louwyck), her boss more interested in her, than she is him. Through surprise dates, setup without her knowledge by her mother, he circles around her in a way, too much for our nervous protagonist. At the park where she’s a familiar face from her childhood, she now cleans after dark once all the guests have left. She’s all alone… until she meets Jumbo.
Jumbo is the affectionate nickname given to the new ride at the park that seems to be having a hard time taking off. It’s not bringing in any money, and it’s making the customers sick. But after Jeanne turns “him” on one night while cleaning his lights, something happens between them and a relationship blooms. Already from the description alone, at the hands of a lesser filmmaker could have been easily mishandled or delving straight into comedy. But it doesn’t. And it’s sold on the back of two things: Merlant’s performance as Jeanne, as well as it’s visuals. With Jeanne, she’s fighting an awkwardness of character, and budding desire for the human experience of love. Although she struggles, surrounded by a cast of turbulent people who can’t relate, constantly suffering from clashes of personality – she finds this connection within a stationary machine. This of course being to complete dismay and distress to those around her.
With Jumbo itself, those who put this film together have managed to make it possible for this machine to convey emotions. While fully being a one-sided relationship, we see it through her eyes. With how Jumbo moves, we get a visual dialogue between the two. And although no words are ever spoken with them, we’re shown how she feels about him by the way he’s shown on screen. It wields its cinematography to show her desire, beautifully the machine lights up the dark and dominates the screen, and from a distance we can see it illuminating the night sky. It’s mesmerisingly filmed in a way that could only be described as seductive and euphoric (yes, we’re still talking about a machine).
One of the things I think is great about this film is that it puts you in the place of the outsider. As an audience, most aren’t going to wish themselves in the role of the main character. She’s not playing against some beautiful actor or actress, falling in love in a way you can relate to or desire. This is alien. But the focus is on everything around it, everything is presented in such a way that you’re still on her side. You can connect with her rejection, or her conflict, or her joy. You want to cheer her on, even if you don’t get it, you don’t have to, but you do get her and how she feels.
The one sentence pitch for Jumbo would be “Woman falls in love with amusement park ride” but it’s far more than that. Like a kinder version of Crash – Jumbo is a touching coming-of-age story that deals in themes of loneliness, family, self-discovery, tolerance, and freedom. One that hopefully leaves you with the realisation that even if you don’t understand – some things just can’t be changed, and you must embrace.
Jumbo is available in UK cinemas from today (July 9th). As well as virtually via Modern Films Player.