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Arts & Culture

FilmOut Monthly Screening Highlights 'Jumbo'

Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) develops an affection for a new theme park ride in the French-language indie film "Jumbo."
Dark Star Pictures
Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) develops an affection for a new theme park ride in the French-language indie film "Jumbo."

Sundance hit offers a different kind of coming out story

FilmOut, San Diego’s LGBTQ film festival, has been on hiatus since the pandemic hit. But it has restarted its monthly film series online and this month you can buy a virtual ticket to "Jumbo."

FilmOut has been on hiatus because of the pandemic and has chosen not to do a virtual festival. Currently the plan is for an in-person film festival in September. That's the plan. But in the meantime, festival programmer Michael McQuiggan has decided to reboot the monthly film series online and to highlight and support indie filmmaking.

FilmOut Monthly Screening Highlights 'Jumbo'
Listen to this story by Beth Accomando.

Here’s the elevator pitch for "Jumbo:" a shy young woman takes a job at an amusement park and falls in love with the new ride. Literally.

Now before you dismiss this as a cringeworthy or laughable premise let me just say that "Jumbo" is deliciously subversive and original. It may not exactly qualify as an LGBT story but it definitely displays a queer sensibility in its defiant embrace of an outsider who refuses to conform to any standard notion of love. It speaks to anyone who’s been made to feel different or told they are not normal.

Jeanne (Noémie Merlant of "Portrait of a Lady on Fire") is the young woman and Jumbo is the name she gives to the flashy new theme park ride. She’s never been close to anyone but the passion she feels for Jumbo makes her giddy with excitement. She communicates with her new lover through lights, he flashes green for yes, red for no, and he spins her around in his huge mechanical arms until she screams with delight.

Eventually she decides to "come out" to her mom and introduce her to Jumbo. Jeanne's joy is such that she cannot fathom a negative response from her mother. But things do not go well. Her mom is more obsessed with Jeanne being normal than happy, so Jeanne must make some decisions for herself about the path she wants to take.

The brilliance of Zoe Wittock’s film is that she lets us see Jumbo through Jeanne’s eyes with little concern for whether Jumbo is a sentient being or not. The point of her film is that it doesn’t matter. Jeanne isn’t hurting anyone with her romantic obsession so why not just let her enjoy it. The scenes of Jeanne and Jumbo have a surprisingly sensual and erotic quality, which I'm sure will make some snicker. But I felt Wittock conveyed Jeanne's obsession with such empathy that it seems cruel to mock her with any laughter. Instead you just want to see her able to enjoy her happiness no matter how outside the norm it is.

"Jumbo" has an intoxicating beauty and a deep sense of empathy. I applaud FilmOut for finding this wonderful indie film and showcasing it.