The steaming cauldron of obscure fetishes and exotic sexualities that is the internet has produced some pretty peculiar micro-communities over the years. One of the strangest and most difficult to understand is objectophilia, or the inclination to form emotional and sexual bonds with inanimate objects. Objectum sexuals - they call themselves OS people - believe their love with the objects is reciprocal and that they can telepathically communicate with them.
According to the infamous 2008 documentary, 'Married to the Eiffel Tower', there are only around 40 self-proclaimed objectum sexuals in the world. Belgian director/screenwriter Zoé Wittock's 'Jumbo' belongs to similarly niche genre that includes 'Lars and the Real Girl', 'Mannequin', 'Christine', 'Blade Runner', 'Rubber', 'Her' and (in my opinion) 'Castaway' and 'The Fast and the Furious' series.
The film follows Jeanne (Noémie Merlant, 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire') as she starts her new job as the late shift custodian at a French theme park. A true admirer of thrills, she fills every inch of her room with miniature models of theme park rides made of trinkets and scraps. With no father at home and a mother, Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot, 'School's Out'), that she can't relate to, her new job offers a blissful escape (aside from overtures from park manager Marc, played by Bastien Bouillon). Enter Jumbo, and life takes a sharp turn.
Jumbo is the name Jeanne gives to the newest addition to the park, a large Tilt-a-Whirl ride complete with a charming personality. During the empty hours of Jeanne's shifts, Jumbo comes alive and communicates only through odd sounds and neon lights. Jumbo's cogs and grease offer Jeanne something no other human can: intimacy, respect, and honest compassion. The more time they spend together, the more viewers begin to question Jeanne's reality. Is Jumbo really sentient? More importantly, is this normal enough to be socially acceptable on any scale?
'Jumbo' isn't a hardcore analysis of OS people, and a tolerance for whimsy will probably help most viewers to find the sweetness in this objectophilic romance. The moments between Jeanne and Jumbo are shot gorgeously, including a sex scene where Jeanne writhes sensuously in black oil, like an outtake from 'Under The Skin'.
In spite of the title, there's nothing particularly massive about the scale of 'Jumbo'; just a couple layers of quirk several stops removed from the world as we know it. It's a credit to Wittock that 'Jumbo' isn't as insufferably precious as something like Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 'Amélie'; everyone onscreen is alarmed enough about Jeanne's plight to keep the story's basic ridiculousness from seeming too cartoonish. Still, it's a one-idea premise that does eventually get tired, despite its slim run time. There isn't an outlandish degree of humour to be found, and its not quite as moving as it needs to be, either.
The moments between Jeanne and Jumbo are shot gorgeously, including a sex scene where Jeanne writhes sensuously in black oil, like an outtake from 'Under the Skin'.
Perhaps the most successful aspect of 'Jumbo' is that it doesn't leave you with the impression that Jeanne is mentally ill or disturbed - she's just looking for love and acceptance and finds it outside the realm of societal norms. And, hey, there is nothing wrong with that. Merlant allows you to see the pain behind Jeanne's eyes, and love, and happiness. So what if a carnival ride makes her happy? As we can observe from the older Margarette and her relationship with her latest boyfriend Hubert (Sam Louwyck, 'The Wild Boys', 'Mandy'), her daughter's connection with Jumbo is better than those dysfunctional couples who end up pushing each other away.
It's hard finding love in this world. If you can find it with an object, Zoé Wittock's 'Jumbo' suggests you go for it.