Objectophilia isn’t a topic that’s often explored in cinema. The only other pertinent example I can think of is Craig Gillespie’s 2007 feature Lars and the Real Girl. In a similar manner an outsider finds love with a non-human character, in this case a sex doll. Like Lars, Jeanne is an outsider and as the script seems to imply probably on the autism spectrum. Jeanne’s love however isn’t even a stand-in for human interaction. She and Jumbo communicate through movement and lights, but it’s hard to know how much of this is Jeanne’s fantasy life and what is real.
When Jeanne confesses she has met someone to her mother Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot) the assumption is that it’s her new boss Marc (Bastien Bouillon) and Margarette encourages the presumed relationship much to Jeanne’s discomfort. Margarette wants Jeanne to find a man, to the point that she brazenly talks about her daughter to Marc as if she’s almost an object herself. A complex dichotomy appears in the film; if Jeanne can be objectified then at what point is her falling in love with an object really wrong? What harm does it do to anyone? The question the film posits is whose fantasy is out of line? Is it Jeanne’s for being sexually aroused and emotionally attached to a machine? Or is it Margarette’s for wanting her daughter to be someone she clearly is not?
Jeanne’s love for Jumbo soon becomes public knowledge when after Marc sees her half naked embracing the ride. The love affair between Jeanne and Jumbo is doomed from that moment with Marc deciding to dismantle to ride and sell it on from the amusement park.
Winttock creates a bizarre fairy tale that functions to question what is normal, but also acts as a metaphor to examine how love works. Margarette must come to terms with Jeanne’s “specialness” and her initial reaction to ostracise her vulnerable daughter and kick her out of the house after learning about Jumbo forms the dramatic core of the film. Margarette loves Jeanne but social mores proclaim that she can’t support her daughter’s bizarre fantasy. Margarette’s own lover, Hubert (Sam Louwyk) acts as the voice to remind her that Jeanne is who she is – a strange but harmless creature who needs her mother’s support regardless of how bizarre the circumstances of Jeanne’s love life.
Visually JUMBO is a feast with Winttock creating a multi-coloured and oddly seductive spectacle that makes Jeanne’s fantasy seem plausible. There are erotic moments between Jeanne and Jumbo that are characterised by Jumbo spilling oil over her which she immerses herself in. The production design is genuinely engaging and pulls the viewer into Jeanne’s subjective reality.
Noémie Merlant commits herself entirely to the role of Jeanne. Merlant who is best known for her work on Céline Sciamma’s exquisite film Portrait of a Lady on Fire exhibits a dazzling emotional range. The audience feels her discomfort, her pleasure, her sadness, her shame. We believe her love for Jumbo is real and palpable no matter how absurd it seems.
Ultimately Winttock has crafted a strange fantasy that anchors itself in some very real questions. How do we love, and does it matter who we love if there is no harm being done? The most important relationship in the film isn’t actually between Jeanne and Jumbo, but rather Jeanne and Margarette. Margarette’s lesson in how to love her daughter is the grist of the film and offers a universal aspect to what would at first appear to be a very niche production.
Signature Entertainment presents Jumbo on Digital Platforms 23rd June.