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Jumbo
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by Jay Seaver

"Worth however many tickets the park charges."
4 stars

It's tempting to search the internet to see if the romance (of sorts) in "Jumbo" is a thing common enough to have a name, especially since it has one of those "based on a true story" credits that one naturally half-suspects to be trolling. It's probably not a good idea, though, because once one does that, it's not much of a leap to what a person should do if someone in their life falls in love with a machine, and this is a movie about not knowing the answer.

The young lady in question is Jeanne Tantois (Noémie Merlant), a young woman who has spent most of her summers at the local amusement park and loves building little mechanical replicas of the rides, but is working there for the first time this year. As shy as her mother Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot) is outgoing, she is happy enough working clean-up during the night shift, especially when wiping down the "Move-It" ride which she names "Jumbo". She's not expecting it to come to life for her, reacting to her touch and communicating with its lights, but she quickly feels a connection to it that's far more sensual than anything she shares with, say, her manager Marc (Bastien Bouillon).

Writer/director Zoé Wittock doesn't necessarily go for subtlety here; there's a moment when Jeanne tells Margarette that she feels the sorts of things that her mother wants her to feel for boys. But while Jeanne's attraction to Jumbo serves as an obvious metaphor for being queer, it seems to have a particular focus on how there's no easy way to tell from the inside whether you're not well or if the straights and normies just don't get you, especially when there's not obviously anybody similar around. Wittock brings this into incredibly tight focus, to the point that if there is anything else on Jeanne's mind, the audience is not privy to it. It could be limiting, but the sheer oddity of her interests and the semi-fantastic way they're presented keeps the film from feeling like it's reducing her entirely to her sexuality rather than just focusing on that aspect of her.

Jeanne being such a relatively blank slate makes for an interesting challenge for Noémie Merlant, who spends much of the film playing introverted to almost the point of blankness but manages to do well playing the odd things that allow her to open up. Strong emotions play across her face without seeming exaggerated or toned down so much as to make the viewer read too much into the slightest variation. It's also delightful to watch how her performance shifts after she apparently consummates the affair; after getting through being afraid of the enormity of what she's just felt, she carries herself differently, like she's still not sure how to deal with other people, but a little more certain of herself. It's the sort of performance that the rest of the cast could easily overshadow or shrink from in fear of overwhelming her, but they by and large don't; even the ones with big personalities are conventional enough to make a contrast.

Then you've got Jumbo himself, the thing at the center of Wittock's seemingly absurd premise that could be handled wrong in so many ways. She seems to make almost every decision correctly, though, never giving him a voice beyond his lights, nor doing much to anthropomorphize him beyond fleeting moments. Jeanne doesn't love him because she sees a man in there, after all. Instead, she leans heavily on cinematographer Thomas Buelens and his team to use the bright candy-colored lighting of the ride to create a bold palette that reacts to where they're pointing the camera - sharp and energetic when shining on Jumbo's clean white body but warm and comforting when lighting the woods around the park. The lighting and composition is often jaw-droppingly beautiful, selling the audience on affection rather than just weird technological lust, and the music by Thomas Roussel has an off-kilter feel while mostly avoiding obvious synth or carnival sounds.

Ending a picture like this is tricky, and Wittock doing better than can be expected still leaves the audience in a position where they may be scratching their heads or wonder just what the message of the film was, specifically. It still winds up surprisingly beautiful and affecting for a movie whose premise invites irony and mockery.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=33670&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/04/21 14:48:38
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USA
  19-Feb-2021
  DVD: 16-Mar-2021

UK
  N/A

Australia
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Directed by
  Zo Wittock

Written by
  Zo Wittock

Cast
  Nomie Merlant
  Emmanuelle Bercot
  Bastien Bouillon
  Sam Louwyck
  Tracy Dossou



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