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jumbo review
A fun park cleaner falls in love with one of the rides.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Zoé Wittock

Starring: Noémie Merlant, Emmanuelle Bercot, Bastien Bouillon, Sam Louwyck

jumbo poster

Fresh off her acclaimed turn in Portrait of a Lady on Fire, rising French actress Noémie Merlant returns in another tale of taboo romance in writer/director Zoé Wittock's feature debut Jumbo. Unlike Portrait, this one is set in modern day France, a setting where few sexual taboos still exist. One that's still frowned upon is objectophilia, a sexual attraction towards inanimate objects. As sexual preferences go, objectophilia is still an erm, object of derision, its practitioners usually found being mocked on the shows of Jerry Springer and the like. With Jumbo, Wittock seeks to give us a sensitive portrait of an objectophile, but whether she succeeds or not is ultimately for objectophiles to decide.

Merlant is Jeanne, a shy young woman who takes up her annual summer job cleaning her small town's fairground in the middle of the night. Preferring to be around objects rather than people, it's the ideal job for Jeanne, who is so enamoured by the park's rides that she spends her time off reconstructing them in miniature detail in her bedroom.

jumbo review

One night while cleaning the park's newest attraction, a giant spinning wheel named "Move It", the ride seems to come to life, its lights flashing despite Jeanne having shut off its power supply. Over the following nights it becomes clear that "Move It", which Jeanne renames as "Jumbo", has become sentient and is able to communicate with Jeanne, flashing its lights green to answer "Yes" or red for "No". Jumbo is notorious for making its riders sick, and it makes Jeanne sick to her stomach - lovesick, that is. It's not long before Jeanne is pleasuring herself every night on Jumbo's giant frame, and the feeling seems to be reciprocated, with the ride showering her in its oily ejaculate.


All would be well were it not for the interference of Jeanne's brassy mother Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot), who is desperate for her daughter to find a man and so steers Jeanne into the sinister arms of the park's sleazy operations manager, Marc (Bastien Bouillon). When Margarette and Marc discover the "object" of Jeanne's infatuation, they write her off as mentally troubled, leading to the most uncomfortable award presentation since Carrie.

jumbo review

Jumbo certainly commits to a premise that could have easily been employed as a gimmick designed to generate cheap chuckles. Wittock ensures that we never laugh at Jeanne, and those who fail to empathise with her niche sexuality are posited as the villains. Merlant shrinks into the meek shoulders of Jeanne, delivering a performance that easily earns our sympathy. But that's where I'm torn on Jumbo. It's commendable that its message is "Love is love," but too often the movie strives for our sympathy towards Jeanne rather than our empathy. The film leaves it ambiguous as to whether Jumbo is indeed sentient or whether Jeanne is simply retreating into a fantasy world, but the more the story progresses, the more it leans towards the latter.


Wittock never quite lays enough groundwork to sell her film's unconventional relationship, rushing into Jeanne embracing Jumbo's novel charms too early. The offensive trope of the single mother who seemingly can't raise her kid properly because she's too busy shagging strange men is unfortunately heavily employed here, and one character (Sam Louwyck) enters the drama under an initial cloud of intrigue only to be sidelined until a saviour moment in the climax. The overall feeling is of a script that was rushed into production when it really needed another few drafts, possibly from a fresh pair of eyes.

jumbo review

On a superficial level, Wittock may have just pulled off a successful audition to get herself a gig on a future Marvel or Star Wars movie. The film's often dark material is offset against an aesthetic heavily influenced by Spielberg and his clones. Watching Jeanne basking under the neon lights of Jumbo, it's impossible not to instantly think of Richard Dreyfuss gazing in wonder at the UFO in Close Encounters. Transformers appears to be a major influence too, and you're half expecting Jumbo to take on humanoid form at some point (I'm no expect on cars, but I believe Margarette's yellow sports car may be the same model that features in Michael Bay's movies). Along the way, the likes of ET, Starman and The Iron Giant are hinted at.

Jumbo looks great, is superbly performed and certainly means well. Its heart is no doubt in the right place in its portrait of a sexual identity that even the most liberal among us still largely dismiss, but while it may help spread acceptance of objectophilia, I'm not sure it does much to improve our understanding of such an identity.

Jumbo
 is on Arrow Player now.



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