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  Jumbo Ride On Time
Year: 2020
Director: Zoe Wittock
Stars: Noémie Merlant, Emmanuelle Bercot, Bastien Bouillon, Sam Louwyck, Tracy Dossou, Jonathan Batholme, Eduard Nemscenko, Noah Daccrissio, Idao Dacrrissio, Stephen Rohde, Chris Caligo, Jimmy Raphael
Genre: Drama, Romance, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jeanne Tantois (Noémie Merlant) is a reserved young woman somewhat dominated by her mother Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot) who is as blowsy as her daughter is subdued. Jeanne has never had a proper boyfriend, despite her mother's encouragement for her to live a normal life, and has become a local figure of ridicule, but maybe as she gets a new job at the nearby amusement part in this small Belgian town, she will be able to open up more. Yet what nobody could have predicted is that while electronics fan Jeanne will fall in love, it may be with a co-worker, but it is not a human one - it is one of the rides.

Objectophilia is a real condition, as you may know if you pay attention to the weirder news stories that crop up in the "fancy that!" categories, but not taken seriously by the vast majority of people, or even labelled a mental illness for those who experience it. Let's be clear with Jumbo: it was not an in-depth examination of the concept, as in writer and director Zoe Wittock's hands it was closer to a mainstream romantic comedy drama where one half of the couple happened to be a fairground ride called Move It, renamed Jumbo by Jeanne. It was the relationship between human and inanimate object that rendered the film bizarre by any reasonable yardstick.

Yet as we have seen over the twenty-first century, what is considered reasonable in relationships is being expanded beyond the conventions of boy meets girl, as increasingly boy meets boy, girl meets girl, girl meets boy who used to be a girl, and even boy meets sex doll girl he wants to spend his life with, that latter closer to what the dynamic was here. Make no mistake, though Wittock did her best to convey an essential sweetness to Jeanne's romantic journey, she did not ignore the sexual aspect, which presented some... interesting approaches to portraying the heroine's sexual satisfaction with a machine that by all rights would never be able to reciprocate to her.

Within seconds of the film beginning, Merlant has treated us to full frontal nudity, as if the director was courting the regard of Jeanne as a sexual being, yet she did the same to Jumbo too in scenes that may be fantasies in Jeanne's head, but may be real, it's ambiguous. Therefore an extended fantasy sees the couple consummate their love - with a lot of oil, the substitute bodily fluids for the ride - and before long the protagonist is enjoying an orgasm while taking a ride on it, even going to the extent of rubbing her bare breasts over its mechanisms when she is ashamed of having strayed with her pushy boss Marc (Bastien Bouillon). She loses her virginity to him because of that unwanted pressure to be normal from her mother and society, though we are supposed to view Jumbo as the one who actually claimed her maidenhood.

Now, this could go down in history as a pioneering work that legitimised a fringe lifestyle passion, or at least taught the audience not to kinkshame because we do see everything more or less from Jeanne's point of view. Not that she does not suffer for her interests, she is victimised and patronised at every turn, rendering her the plucky rebel who fights back against the odds, or so we assume, because the story ends with everything very much up in the air. But by representing the objectophilia as understandable to those of us outside of it, which would be most people, there is a problem narratively: if anything, this could do with being a lot stranger which oddly would have made it more relatable. More like science fiction perhaps, it was already like a benign Demon Seed in places, but emphasise what was akin to a woman falling in love (or lust) with an alien or robot and you might done this curiosity justice (it is pointed out it's based on a true story in the credits). Any questions of how far we tolerate mental eccentricity before it becomes enabling mental illness do not cross the mind here. Music by Thomas Roussel.

[Zoe Wittock's JUMBO starring Noemie Merlant - In cinemas from July 9 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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