Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) – age undetermined – lives with her maman Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot). They are the mother and daughter equivalent of chalk and cheese but both still wounded slightly since their respective husband and father left. We are never given the details but indications suggest it was acrimonious and he did a number on both of them. Margarette seeks companionship with whichever bloke she takes a fancy to from work behind a bar and Jeanne happily tinkers with her creations/ machinations behind closed doors whenever she isn’t working nights at an amusement park.
The anti-social nature of her job – rubbish collecting in solitude – long after all paying customers have vacated the premises suits her down to the ground. She is painfully shy, a little anxious with her cute Amélie-style-bob and the pervading silence that accompanies her. She prefers to keep her head down, mouth shut and cloak herself in her own social awkwardness and quiet. Jeanne has absolutely no idea of her own attraction to men, swamping herself in baggy clothes, bright blue headphones blocking out the outside world. Ops Manager Marc (Bastien Bouillon) falls for her anyway. Her mother, on the other hand is overly loud, a little brash and brimming with confidence – a “bundle of joy”. Their relationship is fractious, with the absent partner/parent the push and pull, he’s the insult slung between them when they want to hurt the other or lash out. Then Jeanne meets Jumbo.
With its red and white stripe design, the fairground ride aptly resembles a piece of rock and Jeanne finds safety in its six huge mechanical arms, choosing to sit astride its dormant structure and spit-clean ‘his’ multitude of raised red bulbs with her hanky. To the more closed mind, the electrics could be shorting but to Jeanne, it/he appears to communicate with her – and she does most of her chatting while with him. For all intents and purposes, he understands her and she gives herself willingly, even falls in love, their sex scene reminiscent of the feeding scene in Under the Skin, only with the sea of blackness giving way to bright white purity as she is dripped in black viscous lubricant. It’s not too much of a stretch to conflate the exhilarating screams of pleasure and excitement experienced during a body-flinging Waltzer, or the dizzying heights of a ride on a Big One.
What follows is an astonishing performance from Merlant who completely sells the emotional, for want of a better word, rollercoaster that is all-consuming love; the joy, jubilation, soul-destroying confusing and rejection (culminating in some excellent ugly-crying over baked goods). The inevitable clash between mother and daughter over the new partner ensues, the kink-shaming starts because people can be cruel about that which transgresses the norm, and immediately condemn what they don’t understand. That the love is never in doubt in Jeanne’s eyes is what makes this such a convincing little film.
Wittock depicts the very real Objectum-sexuality (OS) empathetically. There have been women who have vowed to love, honour and cherish the Berlin Wall, Eiffel Tower, a San Diego train station, and Le Pont du Diable respectively. Tracey Emin even married a stone in 2015. Yet it is Floridian Linda Ducharme who married Bruce in 2013 after a thirty-year courtship (Bruce is a Ferris Wheel) which is the suggested inspiration here and the ‘true story’ checked in the opening credits.
While Jumbo may start out more than a little sci-fi thanks mainly to Thomas Buelen’s cinematography and the use of neon lights, and synthy-buzzes on Thomas Roussel’s soundtrack, it is successful in making the switch from the surreal to a charming offbeat love story (as much about Margarette and Jeanne as Jeanne and Jumbo). The ending which initially feels rather abrupt is lovely and joyous – how else could you end a film about love, intimacy and connection? Perhaps it lands differently mid-pandemic having been locked away from people we would normally be able to touch and adore freely but whatever your mind set, love is love no matter the form it takes.
Jumbo is in UK and Irish cinemas from 9th July