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September 01, 2021



Zoe Wittock - 2020
Dark Star Films

I have yet to see Julia Ducournau's Titane, but between the description of that film, and Zoe Wittock's debut feature, there might be a sub-genre of films about women whose most intimate relationships are with what are normally inanimate objects. That both are French films may possibly be coincidence.

Although such proclamations should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt, the viewer is advised that the film was inspired by a true story. Jeanne, a youngish woman, lives with her mother, Margarette, in a provincial town. Clues are eventually dropped that Jeanne is shy, in some way neurodivergent, but without any kind of shortcuts of explanations or labeling. She is emotionally dependent on her mother. Jeanne's immaturity is also conveyed by her pageboy haircut. Margarette is a woman that the French would say is "of a certain age", her mode of dressing seemingly unchanged from what she wore in her twenties. Jeanne has the seasonal job of working at a small amusement park which has just added a tilt-a-whirl ride called Move-It, but which Jeanne dubs Jumbo. For the reclusive Jeanne, the job of cleaning the amusement park at night allows her to be alone with her thoughts.

The film begins with a dreamlike image. Noemi Merlant as Jeanne has her back to the camera. The lighting makes her white t-shirt appear as iridescent blue. To what extent Jeanne's relationship with Jumbo is to be taken at face value may be up to the viewer. While the film is not science-fiction, the scene of Jumbo's flashing lights when "speaking" with Jeanne made me think of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The way Wittcok frames Jumbo and its (his?) illuminated arms against the sky recalls images of space stations. As Jeanne's obsession with Jumbo becomes more intense, there are images of a dark, thick liquid that could either be oil or blood. Jeanne licking the liquid is vampiric.

The film originated from Zoe Wittock's interest in Objectophilia, sexual attraction to an inanimate object. Wittock also interviewed Erika Eiffel, a woman who had a commitment ceremony with the Eiffel Tower. Wittock is not interested in a psychological study. Jumbo is more about finding a sense of love when relationships between people are tenuous at best. Margarette keeps pushing Jeanne to have a relationship with a man when her own life is marked by a series of fleeting romances. Even when Jeanne submits to having sex with a man, it is in a detached manner. Amusement park rides are based on the premise that the passenger essentially surrenders to the machinery for a kind of heightened physical experience. The tilt-a-whirl lifts the rider up into an open air space, spinning the rider at an accelerated pace before descending gently, leaving the rider temporarily dizzy and disoriented. In Jumbo, it is the people trying to make sense of Jeanne who are the ones dizzy and disoriented. Noemi Merlant's performance deserves the description of being fearless.

Someone may need to explain to me why a film this good has been flying under the radar even after playing at Sundance and the Berlin Film Festival in early 2020. After a brief theatrical US release this past February, Jumbo has quietly been available for streaming. Jumbo is now added as a special attraction for subscribers on Arrow's streaming channel beginning today.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 1, 2021 05:35 AM