Many films have explored love between two people or creatures that have boundaries. Jumbo, Belgian writer-director Zoé Wittock‘s debut feature, is one of the latest to focus on impossible love, featuring Noémie Merlant, who audiences will most likely know from Portrait of a Lady on Fire, another story of forbidden love.
Jeanne (Merlant) is a shy young woman who works nights in a small amusement park and lives with her mother, Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot). When a new ride opens at the park that seems to have a mind of its own, Jeanne starts to develop feelings for it and names it Jumbo.
Jumbo’s premise is intriguing, but despite Wittock’s efforts to bring a fresh perspective to a tale of a condemned love affair, it fails to make an impression. It’s not because of a person developing feelings for an inanimate object. That aspect is bizarrely conceivable, with many stories of people becoming besotted with items; as children, most of us probably adored a toy of some sort at one point in time. Even Jumbo is loosely based on a true story. The reason Jumbo fails is that it does not escape conventionality. The plot offers nothing original to what audiences might have become accustomed to in films with a similar subject matter. The dialogue is also not unlike many other films focusing on these themes that likening the film to a reboot or adaptation would hardly seem inaccurate. Even attempts at humour, generally from Margarette, feel forced and unfunny.
The exploration of how infatuation can affect our thoughts and actions generates interest, due in part to Merlant’s performance. She effectively demonstrates how feelings get the better of her and lead her to act uncontrollably. However, in the final third of the film, Jeanne’s actions become melodramatic, and these scenes lose any impact they are supposed to have.
Many aspects of Jumbo fail to leave a lasting impression, including the point raised; if it makes you happy and causes no harm, then what is the problem with loving something? However, there is no exploration of this in any detail; instead the premise is merely said. The final scene also fails to capitalise on this point because it’s hurried and loses any effect it is attempting to make.
There are moments of artistry and striking imagery, particularly when Jeanne interacts with Jumbo or even dreams about him in one scene. However, these moments are fleeting. Wittock has the capability of making a captivating and prepossessing film. Jumbo, sadly, isn’t it.