Written and directed by Zoé Wittrock in her feature debut, Jeanne, a shy young woman, works in an amusement park. Fascinated with carousels, she still lives at home with her mother, that’s when Jeanne meets Jumbo, the park’s new flagship attraction. Starring: Noémie Merlant, Emmanuelle Bercot, Bastien Bouillon, Sam Louwyck and Tracy Dossou.
Reading the synopsis of a film where a woman falls in love with an amusement ride is justifiably going to raise some eyebrows but don’t fear because it’s not going to get as weird as you think, but still fairly weird. It straddles a line of odd versus artistic, the way that it explores the relationship between Jeanne (Merlant) and Jumbo is surprisingly more ethereal than you might expect. The style that Wittrock uses is visually both creative and dramatic, it gets in your face but in a way that’s contemplative with a philosophical edge. There’s a large mix of parallels you could draw, a few directorial choices hark back to Stranger Things, the overall tone connects to Adult Life Skills, the setting connects to Adventureland and the naivety, curiosity and awkwardness relate to Sweetheart. However, Wittrock’s style does still feel unique, it sets a strange atmosphere that’s hard to nail down but enjoyable to watch.
It occasionally strays from the path of reality but never loses its grip entirely, passing back and forth between two complex relationships, one with Jumbo and the other with her mother. The latter is realistically the bigger heart of this story, the frustrations for both of them never quite able to get on the same page. Margarette (Bercot) is constantly trying to remain patient and considerate but time has waned on her and like anyone, she struggles to keep it up, no matter how much she loves her daughter. The relationship that they create feels sincere and relatable, it’s both easy and difficult to watch. At the same time, it’s mysterious and ominous, carrying a vein of endless possibilities that keeps you hooked in on top of the compelling family dynamic. It creates an odd overall charm, that has a strong edge of sadness and eroticism which is very intriguing.
There’s a lot asked of Noémie Merlant in this role, she has to bring a strong naivety, a natural curiosity, a unique intelligence and perspective, an openness and a chronic shyness. She brings all of that and more, giving the character an edge that feels as though you’ll never quite understand her; something about her feels reminsicent of Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water. It’s intensely vulnerable and complex, which works extremely well when paired with Emmanuelle Bercot’s Margarette who is a much more traditional, extrovert personality. She brings a lot of energy and a liveliness, the type of person who’s the life of the party but then you can also see qualities of Jeanne reflected in her, the vulnerability and search for affection. Sam Louwyck is a wonderful addition, rounding out this trio perfectly with a generosity and kindness that connects the pieces together.
Jumbo is unusual and odd but it’s also touching, tackling both a very strange subject of love with an inanimate object and family struggle. Led by two fantastic performances from Merlant and Bercot with brilliant support by Louwyck, it creates an odd but endearing charm. The visual style mixes between grounded and artistic, exploring the different possibilities of its story. It’s not going to be for everyone but if you can keep an open mind, it’s an intriguingly complex adventure.