Written by: Zoé Wittock
Starring: Noémie Merlant, Emmanuelle Bercot, Bastien Bouillon, Sam Louwyck
Love being how one was made and not a choice has been a slogan championed for the LGBTQ+ community for so long now, it has entered the common vernacular. Something that is true and serves as the pull of the allergy Jumbo seeks to express. While working with a real sexual orientation, this feature works as an overall tale about acceptance, even if supporting family members cannot comprehend it.
Working at a local amusement park, Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) enjoys her employment but is not as sexually active as her mother wishes her to be. When Jeanne realizes she has an attraction to a particular amusement park ride, she feels a connection she never thought was possible, which becomes difficult for those around her to get behind.
Yes, the tagline of this feature may be a bit strange for most, but objectophilia is most certainly a sexual orientation that exists. While some may be baffled by it, Jumbo asks its audience the same thing it does for the characters within it: why judge and why condemn? This really becomes the case here, which features an issue plaguing those who identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. This gets seen mostly through Jeanne’s mother, Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot), and through its rough spots, this feature makes for such a lovely and life-affirming experience.
Jeanne not only has this odd affection for an amusement park ride, but this clashes directly with the pressures of her mother to be more sexually active. Margarette has no issues sleeping around with men and continues this well into the midway point of her life. It has treated her well and wishes the same upon her daughter, but the same way she almost forces this upon Jeanne, it parallels what occurs with parents assuming the sexual orientation of a child. This ultimately leads Jeanne to have sexual encounters she obviously does not enjoy, but it’s the moments she shares with the titular ride that make her feel alive.
A fantastical element of this story exists where it becomes unclear if Jeanne is imagining whether or not the ride has a being. In the moments she shares with it alone at night, it lights up as if it were a living thing of some sort. In those moments, she experiences a love that cannot be equaled by anything else in her life. The film never necessarily answers the question of whether this ride actually operates on its own, but in the end, this fact never really means anything. It all becomes about Jeanne and her experience with it. The scenes she shares with it fall into the trippy in the way it represents the affections they share but each of them look incredible visually. The use of the machine lights and how it bounces off Noémie Merlant reach the desired effect of these sequences. Genuinely beautiful to look at.
As has been the case for what feels like an eternity and still happens today, a level of unacceptance gets particularly ugly in this feature, which Jeanne must contend with. Whether it’s the pestering of this group of young men or the individual who she has some initial sexual encounters with. It gets fairly harmful at certain points, but the emotional potency of the story comes from how the supporting characters react to it and eventually come around to the point where they defend Jeanne’s lifestyle. They may still not fully comprehend it but at the very least they give her the respect of being a human and having these feelings, which ultimately becomes the entire point of the story.
As someone who was left in awe by Noémie Merlant in Portrait of a Lady on Fire, getting another opportunity to see her in a film could not be passed up and once again she absolutely delivers a tremendous performance. Garnering the sympathies of her struggle trying to explain her sexual orientation to others to this inquisitive nature she pulls off in her character as she learns about her feelings for this ride, she does everything this role asks for. Merlant brings so much sympathy to this character and it puts the audience in the same place as the characters that even if this sexual orientation does not make sense, it only matters that she’s happy seeing as this causes no harm to anyone. Merlant delivers all of this through her incredibly sweet performance.
Sympathetic, inquisitive, and beautiful, Jumbo, through everything it displays becomes about the complexity of sexuality and how it comes in various forms. It’s truly all about acceptance and the insightful little moments of this feature truly nail this down in what makes for a moving piece of filmmaking. Noémie Merlant can do absolutely no wrong in my eyes as an actor, and this serves as yet another reminder that I need to seek out more of her work as she has yet to disappoint.