Jeanne (Portrait of a Lady on Fire’s Noémie Merlant) lives with her promiscuous mother (Emmanuelle Bercot) and works as a cleaner at an amusement park. She is awkward, shy and introverted and has a fascination with the park’s various attractions, creating working models of them in her room. Fascination turns to infatuation, however, when she meets the newest attraction, which she lovingly nicknames Jumbo. The protagonist finally feels happiness and belonging and is convinced that the machine reciprocates her feelings. But when she confesses these emotions she is ridiculed and ostracised by her mother and colleagues.
Said to be inspired by a true story, the debut feature from writer-director Zoé Wittock is a dazzling ride brimming with heart. Merlant is divine in the leading role and her surprisingly touching connection with a piece of machinery – as ridiculous as it sounds – is one of the most captivating and moving onscreen relationships in recent memory. Jumbo may be made of lights and metal instead of skin and bone, but Merlant makes him (Jeanne frequently refers to Jumbo as male) seem as alive as any other living creature. Wittock expresses their love through hypnotically creative sequences which blur the line between fantasy and reality to a delightful degree.
There are also unmistakable parallels to a coming-out narrative here. After literally coming out about her newfound love to her mother, Jeanne is misunderstood by those around her. She’s bullied and told that she needs clinical help on more than one occasion; there are very few people willing to accept the protagonist for who she is. As much as the film is a story about love between Jeanne and the titular attraction, it’s also a tale about acceptance between mother and daughter. It’s a shame that this element of the feature isn’t explored as deeply as the central relationship. Merland and Bercot’s performances are devastatingly good; but their reconciliation comes across as a little undercooked compared to everything else.
Regardless of that, though, Jumbo has more than enough creativity and spark to leave a huge smile on your face during its finale. Wittcock’s debut is a well-oiled machine that audiences will undoubtedly fall in love with.
Jumbo does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Glasgow Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Glasgow Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Jumbo here: