Jumbo – A magnificent mechanical ballet

Jumbo is playing in selected cinemas nationwide now

Love is an emotion often felt but rarely understood. It is overwhelmingly powerful and terrifyingly devastating all at once; a violent reaction moments from splitting or multiplying tenfold. Despite the inherently intangible nature of love, we still try to place our conventions onto it. Trapping it in a box and marking the boundaries. Maybe this helps us feel like we have a semblance of control over the feeling when in reality, we are powerless to its all-encompassing grasp. We see so many depictions of a singular form of romantic love in our media, often white and often heterosexual – a one-size-fits-all hole for a shape whose form is indescribable. The truth is, love is like a fairytale – magical and spellbinding, fantastical yet rooted in humanity. I like to think that’s how Zoé Wittock sees love.

We’ve all seen those absurd pairings, for example, a woman marries the Eiffel Tower, or a man falls in love with his car. Relationships like these seem impossibly comical; after all, how could someone possibly fall in love with something as monolithic as the Eiffel Tower or cold and mechanical like your own car? Where we see the absurdity, Wittock sees something else. She sees the truth in their emotion and strips away the absurdity, in turn crafting Jeanne (Noémie Merlant).


Jeanne is different, shy and reserved, a polemic opposite of her outgoing, sultry mother Margarette (Emanuelle Bercot). There are little DIY amusement rides in Jeanne’s room, comprised of tiny twinkling lights and warped slivers of metal – her own little amusement wonderland. And It’s clear that Jeanne has a deep passion for the world of amusements, transforming her room into a small-scale park; to her, her park is her home. So it’s no surprise when she falls for Jumbo, a new amusement park ride. 

Jeanne falls for Jumbo in the same way anyone would fall for another – slowly and gently, and then profoundly, as though pulled by an unseen force. Wittock’s camera crafts a gentle closeness between the pair. Jeanne bathed in the neon glow of carnival reds, greens and amethysts, each enchanting her, and just as it delights Jeanne, we find ourselves captivated by its allure. In fact, it’s hard to watch Jumbo’s magnificent mechanical ballet and not feel as mesmerised as Jeanne. The viewer caught in the trap of the turning structures hypnotic gaze. It’s like being at a party where someone catches your eye – suddenly, they’re all you can focus on, as the world disappears into the fringes of your mind. 


Wittock clearly has personal knowledge of the human condition, as Jumbo explores a level of intimacy that feels universally experienced yet hardly touched. Jeanne’s fingers gently tracing Jumbo’s lights while carefully considering his tiny frays and scratches. These are intensely intimate sensations we have experienced and can feel the longing love behind. The result is a remarkably haptic experience that taps into deeper levels of human intimacy to transfix you. Unlike Jeanne’s incredulous mother or park manager Marc, you never once question Jeanne’s dedication nor her commitment to Jumbo. This magical amalgamation of eroticism and haptic cinematography injects this inanimate object with a human soul: Jeanne’s truth and Wittock’s genius crafting Jumbo beyond an amusement ride. 

Jumbo emits a philosophy of love that is not imprisoned by convention. Instead, it embraces the beautiful chaos of emotion. It emphasises the importance of allowing yourself to feel what you feel and not be restricted by the narrow-mindedness of others. Jumbo feels like a modern-day fairy-tale, a beautifully penned letter about giving yourself over to love and learning to accept yourself and others. Zoé Wittock’s way of looking at the world is beautiful; she sees genuine, truthful emotion in what many perceive as absurd. And in doing so reminds us that some things can’t be understood, but they can always be felt.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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