My love for neon lights doesn’t go as far as Jeanne’s love for Jumbo, a theme park ride she feels connected to on a romantic level, but as far as coming out stories go, this has to be one of the most unique ones.

Jumbo tells the story of Jeanne (Noémie Merlant – ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’), an introverted shy young woman who one day in a bizarre way gets the feeling of finally being understood – not by a human, but by a machine. When she’s cleaning one of the rides of the theme park she works at reacts to her touch and voice, she believes someone’s messing around with the controls. When the same thing happens the day after, she slowly starts to sense a different kind of connection she’s never felt before – Jeanne’s falling in love. As her mother tries setting her up with a guy, Jeanne expresses her infatuation for Jumbo, which doesn’t exactly go as planned. As she explores and grows her relationship with the ride, things get more interesting with every flicker of light and drop of oil that touches her skin.

Zoé Wittock‘s full length feature debut isn’t the most accessible to make a first impression with moviegoers, but you can’t fault her for not thinking out of the box. Her very bizarre coming out story starts of with a boost of energy when Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot – ‘Happy Birthday‘) sings from the top of her lungs in the car, before dropping her daughter off at the Belgian waterfalls of Coo, where the amusement park is located. The movie is filmed in a rather unconventional way, taking more of a horror/sci-fi aesthetic that at one pointed even reminded me of ‘Under the Skin‘, when Jumbo and Jeanne take their relationship to the next level. The bright neon colours set against the dark starry sky are simply magical, but as mentioned before, my love for neon lights might have something to do with that.

Thanks to Merlant, Bercot and Sam Louwyck‘s (who enters the scene later on as Margarette’s new boyfriend) convincing acting chops, their rather one-dimensional characters are offered an (almost) three-dimensional personality. The actors do their best to convey the deeper emotional cuts that happen when Jeanne comes clear about her emotions for Jumbo, with a somewhat brushed over acceptance speech brought by Louwyck, that could’ve had a more emotional impact on me if given more attention and time to simmer. Wittock rather moves on to the final act that makes you root for the main character, but doesn’t particularly add some grease to the “bizarreness” that drives the film and decides to pull everything back into reality.

Jumbo works on many different levels, even if it lacks a bit of depth that’s necessary to convince the audience with its underlying message of acceptance and sexual exploration. Wittock successfully takes us on a unique thrill ride with her first feature length film, letting the imagination roam free in the most ethereal way imaginable.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

FIFF2020 Review – ‘Jumbo’

Reviewed online (screener provided by publicist), October 10, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 93 min.

PRODUCTION: An O’Brother Distribution release of an Insolence Productions, Les Films Fauves, Kwassa Films production. Producer: Anaïs Bertrand. Executive producer: Marie-Sophie Volkenner.

CREW: Director/screenplay: Zoé Wittock. Editing: Thomas Fernandez. Cinematography: Thomas Buelens. Score: Thomas Roussel.

WITH: Noémie Merlant, Emmanuelle Bercot, Bastien Bouillon, Sam Louwyck.

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