Stars: Noémie Merlant, Emmanuelle Bercot, Bastien Bouillon, Sam Louwyck
Hard to quantify, but Belgian writer-director Zoé Wittock’s feature debut about a young woman with objectophilia (attraction to the inanimate) might be described as a whimsical take on ‘Crash’ (the Cronenberg/Ballard one) crossed with an 80s ET-style friendship fantasy.
Jeanne (Merlant from ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’) is a withdrawn young woman living with her brash and disappointed mother Margarette (Bercot) in Luxembourg close to the French border. Unlucky in love, Jeanne works at an amusement park where she cleans the fairground rides. She starts feeling an attachment to a 20ft tall ride, after it appears to sweep her off her feet, and names it ‘Jumbo’. After spending time together alone where Jumbo seems to communicate to her via a series of groans and blinking lights, Jeanne’s fascination develops into a real emotional and physical attraction.
It feels slight but the appealing Merlant fully commits to the material, while the production design – all flowered wallpaper, plastic pink flamingos and disco balls – illustrates the characters’ predilection for the ersatz. A scene where Margarette complains that a vibrator would have been a better father to Jeanne than her errant dad, suggests a possible clue to Jeanne’s attraction to the artificial.
The director even manages a twisted eroticism in a fantasy sequence where their relationship is consummated via a stream of artfully rendered oil, then subsequently hinting that Jeanne’s affair with Jumbo may not be entirely in her mind. The slightly twee and pat ending feels a bit of a let-down after this flirtation with the transgressive.
Jumbo is released on 9th July
Follow David on @DWill_Crackfilm