I’ve been trying all day to figure out how to break this to you, and I’m no further ahead now that I was this morning, and you’ll see from the time stamp that it very very late in the evening now. Assuming I get something put on the page and hit publish tonight, which is assuming a lot since I still have bupkis. Well, that’s an exaggeration. Not the bupkis, the bupkis is spot-on. It’s just that by “all day” what I really mean is “intermittently, for the past 13 hours, for a total of probably not more than 90 minutes.” Which is still quite a lot as I can usually bang these out with great efficacy.
But this is what you get when you attend the Fantasia Film Festival, a festival dedicated to the weirdest and most wonderful corners of the wide world of cinema. It’s not for blockbusters, and not generally for Oscar bait, although it has hosted its share of contenders, including South Korea’s A Taxi Driver, Japan’s The Great Passage, and our own Tom of Finland. It’s been visited by the finest film nerds, including Ben & Josh Safdie, Guillermo del Toro, Mark Hamill, John Carptenter, James Gunn, Nicolas Winding Refn, Eli Roth, Takashi Miike, Ben Wheatley, and me. It’s funny because it’s true.
I have seen lots of strange stuff at this festival: people pooping out their living, breathing, emotional baggage; humanoid cockroaches; sex cam horror; an impregnated bathtub; a frog-man serial killer; a hunt for bigfoot; cannibal grandparents… and I could go on but won’t, for both our sakes.
But Jumbo…is in a category all its own. It’s about a woman, Jeanne, bit of a weird duck that one. Still lives with her mother. Kind of a loner. Works at an amusement park. Falls in love with a carnival ride. Typical French woman, eh?
So yeah. She calls him Jumbo because his real name (slave name?) is vulgar (and let’s face it, it’s more of a descriptor than a name). It’s one of those tilty-whirly rides that make kids squeal and/or turn green. And it’s dead sexy. Well to Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) he is. He’s very attractive, smart, funny…well, okay, it’s hard to see what exactly she sees in him, other than he’s just about the only one who hasn’t called her a weirdo. At least not to her face. And he does seem responsive: he flashes his lights, he takes her for a spin, he blows smoke and leaks oil…oil that is sometimes good and sometimes bad. It’s a bodily fluid I suppose, which at times makes Jeanne orgasmic and elsewise makes her anxious.
You know who else is anxious? Everyone who knows about Jeanne’s little crush. Suddenly being “a little odd” is seeming a bit more pathological. Her mother (Emmanuelle Bercot) is not exactly lucky in love herself, yet she still feels empowered to criticize Jeanne’s choice of beau. And the human male coworker (Bastien Bouillon) who up until quite recently had a crush on our Jeanne feels a little stupid for coming in second to a garish attraction that plays 80s songs while stirring up puke.
Writer-director Zoé Wittock deserves an award for the pure audacity to take such a story to the screen, to present it to an audience and say “Yes, I made this. On purpose.” But we can’t help who we love. Unless it’s an inanimate object, in which case we should really, really try. I can’t help but admire a movie that subverts even the modern romance, I can’t help but love Jeanne for her genuineness, her sincerity, but I can’t quite get on board with Jumbo. It’s an experiment, a bold one, yet still reminds me of things I’ve seen before (Under The Skin!). Jumbo and I are not a perfect match, which is find and dandy with us both – after all, Jumbo’s already got a girl, and despite what I felt was a marked lack of chemistry, they seem to be quite serious about each other. Quite.