Director – Zoé Wittock – 2020 – France – Cert. 15 – 93m
A young woman working at a fairground falls in love with one of the rides, a machine named Move It, which she renames Jumbo – out in cinemas and virtually via Modern Films Virtual Player on Friday, July 9th
When her single parent mother Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot) drops Jeanne Tantois (Noémie Merlant) off for her first day of employment at the local amusement part Jeanne has known all her life, her mother makes a passing remark about Jeanne’s father: “if only he could have been my vibrator”. While that comment is never (ahem) touched on again, the idea is central to the film.
Whatever she says, it isn’t an idea that Margarette can live by. An outgoing bartender, shortly into the narrative she strikes up a relationship with Hubert (Sam Louwick), moving him pretty swiftly into the family home. Jeanne doesn’t seem to like or dislike him much either way as a step-dad… She’s not really interested.
Margarette would like her daughter to bed a nice boy. Someone like her young manager at the fairground Marc (Bastien Bouillon) who both encourages her to enter for the Employee Of The Year contest and is drawn to her physically. But Jeanne, working late polishing rows of red lights on fairground machinery, finds herself drawn instead to the new Tilt-A-Whirl ride called Move It. Although she christens it – or him – Jumbo.
After it makes strange, mechanical sounds which could be interpreted as romantic longing, or flashes its lights in what could be interpreted as sweet-talking her – which could just as easily be read as a piece of machinery making a random noise or circuits sputtering into life for no real reason – she falls deeply, passionately in love.
This becomes intensely physical, from the moment she straps herself in and experiences what can only be described as an orgasmic ride flying through the air through a sequence in an all white environment where she is first approached by then finds herself bathing in viscous, jet black oil. This from a girl whose main joy in life has hitherto been found in building working models of fairground rides complete with illuminations in her bedroom.
Her mother objects and pushes her rather towards Marc, with whom Jeanne attempts a physically consummated but ultimately deeply unsatisfactory fling. Hubert then tells Margarette that she should respect her child’s sexual preferences, that he understands why people leave her then walks out. Can Margarette come to terms with her daughter’s wishes and get Hubert back – and would he even be interested?
It all sounds completely bonkers, and in a way it is – and yet first time feature writer-director Wittock possesses a most striking vision. This is like a Disney movie made for grown-ups – ‘mature’ in every sense of the word, yet it evokes a real sense of the childlike and the wondrous without reducing that sense to the childish or the infantile.
There are echoes of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977) too in the moving parts and flashing lights, but there are no horror genre touches here, no menacing other which might possibly wish to do us harm. If there’s no malice in the machine, it can be read as a benevolent other with the film walking a very clever line between Jumbo’s character and personality being a figment of Jeanne’s imagination and the machine genuinely falling for and wooing the young woman. The whole thing is captivating and charming, but not at the expense of the type of rough edges so often found in real life.
In short, a truly extraordinary piece of cinema.
Jumbo is out in cinemas and virtually via Modern Films Virtual Player in the UK on Friday, July 9th .