Chattanooga Film Festival 2020: JUMBO is Pure Cinematic Bliss

Jumbo was one of my most anticipated films of The Chattanooga Film Festival ever since I read the synopsis in anticipation for its Sundance premiere. This was thanks to a documentary I had seen on the subject on Youtube a few years back about Objectum Sexuality, or people with sexual or romantic attraction to inanimate objects. I found the doc completely fascinating. It showed the stories of several women, one in love with the Berlin Wall, another who married the Eiffel Tower and a woman who fell in love with pendulum style carnival ride. The doc that was possibly the basis for this dug into the psychology a bit of Objectum and I was very curious to see how a film would portray something like this.

Written and directed by Zoé Wittock, Jumbo is the story of Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) a peculiar young woman about to start her first day as a night time janitor at a seasonal rural amusement park. We get the idea that she already took this job with ulterior motives in mind as we see her first one-on-one interaction with the new tilt a whirl ride at the park, that she has affectionately nick-named “Jumbo”. The narrative sort of goes from there as we witness Jeanne’s trial and error at discovering her sexuality, while also trying desperately not to alienate her mother; who just wants her to meet a nice boy. I think because she has this anchor in reality with her mother, we as an audience never lose our tether to her as director Zoé Wittock masterfully gets us invested in this bizarre relationship.

The film leans heavily into sci-fi to help normalize Jeanne’s bond with Jumbo, and to give the ride life. Heavily influenced by anime and also Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, it gives a surreal bend to something that could have simply been exploitation fodder and gives us the ability to experience this through Jeanne’s eyes. Speaking of which, Noémie Merlant who also starred in Portrait of a Lady on Fire is utterly fearless here as Jeanne. Her performance is remarkably nuanced and layered as we see this young woman charged with finding herself while also trying to convince those around her that this indeed is her version of love.

Oddly touching and completely sincere is its depiction of this outsider love story, Jumbo is cinema in its purest form. It was easily my favorite film of the fest and possibly of the year so far. Zoé Wittock somehow imbues a story about a woman in love with a carnival ride with more humanity and emotion that most rom-coms, plunging into the depths of the human condition, to explore what exactly is love? What makes Jumbo more than a simple foray into the weird is how it doesn’t simply stop with our Jeanne’s story, but how the film tackles this relationship’s effect on her single mother and how she struggles not just to accept her daughter’s unconventional choice, but also attempting to understand and eventually support it.

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