You’ve heard of unlikely romances, but the star of “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and an amusement park ride? That takes “unlikely” to a whole new level, but that’s also precisely the plot of Zoé Wittock’s festival favorite “Jumbo,” in which Noémie Merlant romances a tilt-a-whirl in a tender, erotically charged love story.
For the sake of contextualizing the weirdness of this romance a bit more, here’s the official synopsis, straight from distributor Dark Star Pictures: “Director Zoé Wittock’s first feature film ‘Jumbo’ stars Noémie Merlant (‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’) as Jeanne, a shy young woman, lives at home with her uninhibited bartender mother and works the graveyard shift as a cleaner at an amusement park. Her mother wants her to meet a man, but Jeanne prefers tinkering in her bedroom with wires, light bulbs, and spare parts, creating miniature versions of theme park rides. During her late-night shifts she begins spending intimate time with the alluring new Tilt-A-Whirl ride that she decides to call Jumbo. Finding herself seduced by ‘his’ red lights, smooth chrome, and oily hydraulics, Jeanne concludes that the thrilling new relationship she wants to pursue is with Jumbo.”
“Jumbo” has been adored up and down the festival circuit, from Sundance back in January 2020, to Berlin, Moscow, Mill Valley, and AFI. “Jumbo” also has a fan in IndieWire’s Senior Film Critic David Ehrlich, who wrote out of Sundance in his review:
Splitting the difference between “Terms of Endearment” and David Cronenberg’s “Crash” in a way that’s often sweet and surreal (but never sinister), Wittock essentially takes an ultra-familiar premise and coats it with the candied shell of something you’ve never seen before.
If Jeanne’s cloistered imagination and unkempt bob immediately suggest that “Jumbo” is huffing the fumes of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s magical realism, the probing severity of Wittock’s style — and the extent to which it possesses her characters — soon paves the way for a story that borrows more from the Brothers Grimm than from the likes of “Amelie.”
“Jumbo” releases from Dark Star Pictures in select theaters on February 19, with VOD to follow. Check out the film’s first trailer, exclusively on IndieWire, below.