Jumbo Review: Glasgow Film Festival 2021

A young woman finds love with a fairground attraction in Jumbo…

Jumbo

Jumbo is a subtle and quirky indie romance that follows the painfully shy Jeanne (Noémie Merlant, Portrait of a Lady on Fire), who’s struggling with the tumultuous emotional rollercoaster of her first infatuation/crush. Except the kicker here is that, for Jeanne, it really is a roller coaster (or whatever those enormous articulated whirling fairground rides are called), and her new attraction… is literally an attraction.

Working the night shift as a cleaner at an amusement park, Jeanne is granted true escapism from her insular life at home with her brassy and sexually liberal mother (Emmanuelle Bercot). Yet as she sensually spit-polishes the steel arms of the park’s new fairground ride and becomes enraptured by its pulsating bulbs, her coy and demure homelife persona become joyously liberated, typified by the unsubtle nicknaming of the flagship ride: ‘Jumbo’.

Yet this infatuation becomes more fantastical as Jumbo miraculously reciprocates Jeanne’s desires, its mechanical heart flashing consensual lights of red and green as it dances around her in a moonlit waltz of courtship. All the while, new park manager Marc (Bastien Bouillon) is also vying for Jeanne affections, and despite his uncomfortably aggressive pursuit of her, it’s clear she only has eyes for Jumbo. Cognisant of her own strangeness, Jeanne wrestles with her frustrated desires and the expectations of a so-called ‘normal’ relationship in pursuit of love and acceptance.

There’s no denying that the debut feature from Zoé Wittock is shot beautifully, with the hypnotic light show that Jumbo produces luring you into its spider-like embrace, surrounding you with an emotive score and a pounding angsty soundtrack of Belgian new wave. While the dizzying romance will give you the warm and fuzzies, Wittock’s desire for daring can be seen in the shock shots of the seemingly demure lead embracing uncompromising nudity, climaxing in a hauntingly erotic oil slick love scene, reminiscent of Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin, with its Kubrickian black on white aesthetic a stark contract to the bombast of neon and noise of the fairground.

The topic of objectophillia, the sexual and romantic attraction to inanimate objects, is the attention-grabbing headline here. While the film effuses a love-is-love sentiment and broadcasts a desire for acceptance, the message doesn’t quite cut deep enough, appearing non-committal and confused in its convictions, with its challenging eroticism inviting the audience to perhaps gawk rather than yearn to understand and accept.

Jumbo was seen and reviewed at the Glasgow Film Festival. For more information about the festival, including how to buy tickets, click here. Main image credit: Caroline Fauvet