Saturday, October 24, 2020

AFI Fest Spotlight: Jumbo

I’m delighted to be covering a number of selections from AFI Fest 2020. The festival runs October 15th-22nd, 2020, and films are available to watch online during that time.

Directed by Zoé Wittock
Festival Information

Love comes in many different forms, and may not always be felt equally between two people. Over time, certain types of affection have become more and less acceptable. Close family members like first cousins, for instance, have in the past been married, which is not as common today, while same-sex relationships are more widely recognized and normalized in some places. What people feel for animals or inanimate objects, however, remains largely taboo, and even if it isn’t the same as what two people can feel for each other, there’s definitely something worth unpacking that goes into that strong emotion.

Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) works at an amusement park. She finds her life forever changed when she first sees the Move It, a new attraction that she nicknames Jumbo. It comes alive in a marvelous way for her, using its parts and lights to enthrall her. She finds her feelings to be completely normal, but when she shares them with her mother Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot), the reaction she gets is one that makes her feel completely isolated. The judgment of others pales in comparison to the strength of what Jeanne feels for Jumbo, a connection she can’t truly explain to anyone else.

This film, which is based on a true story, does a marvelous job of conveying the intensity of how Jeanne interacts with Jumbo, animating this ride so that it does seem like an actual character. Margarette is a stand-in for the audience as someone who loves her daughter but can see that what she’s claiming to feel isn’t inherently normal. Jeanne’s behavior doesn’t suggest that she conforms to most expectations others have of her, but this feels like more of a departure, one that alternatively suggests a need for her to get help and that what she’s experiencing is perfectly acceptable and even healthy.

Merlant’s last big film role was as someone channeling a different kind of forbidden love in last year’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” Here, she doesn’t have another actress mirroring how she feels, and therefore her performance feels distinctly different, in sync with an amusement park ride that she brings to life just as much as the film does. It’s a film overflowing with passion and endearing resistance to the notion of making people feel bad for who they are, one that still ends up being a bit strange due to the nature of its plot.


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