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Jumbo (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

JUMBO (2020)

Starring Noémie Merlant, Emmanuelle Bercot, Bastien Bouillon, Sam Louwyck, Tracy Dossou, Jonathan Bartholmé, Eduard Nemcsenko, Noah Daccrissio, Idao Daccrissio, Stephen Rohde, Chris Caligo, Jimmy Raphaël and Barbara Hellemans.

Screenplay by Zoé Wittock.

Directed by Zoé Wittock.

Distributed by Dark Star Pictures. 93 minutes. Not Rated.

Screened from the 2020 Philadelphia Film Festival.

Jeanne, the heroine of the oddball but fascinating French film Jumbo is in love with an amusement park ride. When I say that, I’m not just saying she enjoys taking the ride. She is literally in love with it. She feels romantically for the giant machine, and even sexually. She is considering committing to share her life with it. She fantasizes about it covering her with its hot, sticky oil.

Yes, her obsession is strange, but is she really hurting anyone, other than perhaps herself?

Particularly since it appears that the ride is actually communicating with her. Or is that all in her head? The film stays pretty ambiguous on this matter.

The ride is a Move It machine, all bright blinking lights, throbbing wires, huge grasping arms and cushioned seats. Jeanne calls it Jumbo, because as she explains the name Move It doesn’t suit the huge attraction.

Jeanne is an intensely shy woman, living with her overbearing mother and desperately afraid of both love and loneliness. Her life revolves around her work at a local amusement park. She is bullied by some of her co-workers, being flirted with by her slightly smarmy new boss and seems to only find happiness making little intricate dioramas of the theme park rides.

It is into this empty life that Jumbo arrives, the new star at the park, with its twinkling lights and its long questing arms.

Jeanne is bravely played by the terrific French actress Noémie Merlant, who played a very, very different kind of role as the lead in last year’s art house favorite Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Yet despite all of Jeanne’s neuroses and flaws – and believe me, she has many of those – Merlant is able to make Jeanne a sympathetic figure. A bit pathetic, perhaps, but the audience instinctively wants to protect her.

Not that you necessarily want to see her marry a carnival ride, but you do want to see her get her life under control, and maybe have her find the love that she so obviously craves but scares her. Hopefully not with an inanimate object, but, hey, if it works for her, who are we to judge?

However, even with this oddball high concept, Jumbo has more astute things to say about the human condition than many other more “realistic” films. Because Jumbo is not really about Jumbo, though of course it plays a big part in the film. More to the point, it is a smart and sensitive look at a lost soul, an outcast who is trying to find her way in the world, even if it is not necessarily a road that most would take.

(Ed. Note: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 annual Philadelphia Film Festival has been changed to a virtual festival. All films and Q&As will be available for streaming. You can get information on the festival at their website

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved. Posted: October 26, 2020.


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