Jumbo review – a tender, kooky love story between girl and … fairground ride

Here’s a charming French film in which Noémie Merlant is overwhelmed with feelings of forbidden love and … no, it is not Portrait of a Lady on Fire. The kooky premise of Jumbo – a young woman falling madly in love with a fairground ride – might invite bafflement but Zoé Wittock’s idiosyncratic comedy-drama is an entertaining blend of sensory overload and sincere empathy.

The film opens with the shy Jeanne (Merlant) jolted from a neon trip of a dream where she witnesses a gorgeous vortex full of ever-changing colours. Her bedroom reflects this fascination with bright lights and circular movements; Jeanne’s hobby is making model carousels out of shiny metallic cords. And she works at a theme park, where her perpetual bedhead hair and awkward demeanour mark her as an outsider. Just when she is withdrawing into her own world, a new addition to the park opens her cocoon. This humongous machine, lovingly nicknamed Jumbo by Jeanne, is like an octopus, with lighted arms that spin around in a mesmerising whirl.

Jeanne’s dizzying infatuation with Jumbo is heightened when she takes a woozy ride. The film remains ambiguous as to whether Jumbo is sentient: an abstract sequence in which black oil slowly covers Jeanne’s body feels like her imaginary interpretation of woman-and-machine sex, yet the next scene has the character washing real grease off her body. These sequence give us a window into Jeanne’s mind, cluttered with preoccupations about her overbearing mother and her amorous manager.

到底, this unusual love story is perhaps closer to the queerness of Portrait of a Lady on Fire than one might think. Tenderly centring on non-heteronormative attraction, Jumbo is a gentle plea for acceptance and understanding.