Movie Review: “Jumbo” – Love with the Right Object

By Nicole Veneto

Giant is one of the most magical and visually captivating romances that I have seen in quite some time.

A scene from Giant.

Giant, directed by Zoé Wittock. Projection at Coolidge Corner Virtual Theater

The old conservative talking point that marriage equality was a slippery slope that would lead to the institutionalization of bestiality and other wildly idiosyncratic sexual and romantic couples is – and always has been – a bull’s load. The debate over legalizing same-sex marriage in America has been settled for years now, but this classic piece of right-wing alarmism still pops up every once in a while every time a movie about a human training with a creature or thing. non-human comes out. . This was the reaction to the winner of the Best Picture 2018 The shape of the water, which generated a flood of opinion pieces about how Hollywood liberals legitimized interspecies sex as the next step on the dreaded gay agenda. Despite or because of the hype, Guillermo del Toro’s romantic reinvention Creature from the black lagoon ended up encouraging filmmakers to explore the nature of love and intimacy through unconventional (if not paraphilical) couplings.

In his first feature film, Giant, French director Zoé Wittock is inspired by the real life story of a woman married to the Eiffel Tower as the basis for a coming-of-age tale about a girl who falls in love with a merry-go-round in an amusement park. Yes, Giant is a film about objectum sexuality (objectophilia, or sexual attraction to inanimate objects), a topic that has remained relatively intact in the media outside of the sensationalism of TLC My strange addiction. (For those who don’t remember, My strange addiction was the reality show that featured a dirty talking guy behind the wheel of his car.) But in Giant, Wittock transforms what might have been gnashing fodder into a beautifully empathetic and sensory treatise on the metaphysics of love.

Jeanne (Portrait of a Lady on Fire‘s Noémie Merlant) is an introverted young lady living at home with her well-meaning but bossy bohemian mother Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot), a bartender and serial date who speaks openly about using a vibrator and how much she wants his daughter to get laid. When Jeanne is not locked in her room building functional model fairgrounds from aluminum wire and fairy lights, she works nights as a caretaker at the amusement park she has frequented since her childhood. . It’s the start of the new season, and Margarette hopes that Jeanne will take an interest in her new boss Marc (Bastien Bouillon). But Jeanne’s attention immediately turns to the park’s latest attraction: the Move-It, a Super Star ride which, coincidentally, looks like his favorite model, Jumbo. This hyperfixation quickly becomes powerfully serious when the journey seems to respond to the presence of Jeanne (whether Jumbo is sensitive or not remains ambiguous). As Jeanne falls even more in love, her unconventional but emotionally fulfilling bond with Jumbo inevitably raises strong objections from those around her, especially Margarette.

Despite the bizarre subject (if not downright taboo), Giant treats his central romance between man and machine with absolute sincerity. A first conversation between Jeanne and Marc raises the philosophical question guiding the film: “Inanimate objects, do you have a soul that sticks to our soul and the strength to love?” The answer: love has a transforming power that gives soul to all things, living and inanimate. Through deft use of intricate sound design and coordination of lighting, Wittock imbues a massive structure like Jumbo with noticeable personality. Its neon lights flash in a dizzying response to Jeanne’s questions; he moans and squeals like a giant bestial mech excited in his presence. In the same way that Elisa and the amphibian creature in The shape of water, they develop a way to communicate outside of the spoken language. It’s an effective cinematic shortcut for an intimate bond that goes beyond sex, even if the relationship Is become physical.

Thankfully, Wittock doesn’t subject us to watching Merlant frantically working a fairground ride or deep-throat LED bulbs. Magical realism – assisted by a good dose of surrealism – emphasizes the hallucinogenic sensory nature of the sexual encounter. The love scene between Jeanne and Jumbo takes place in an endless white dream space reminiscent of the opening scene of Under the skin, with a Mica Levi-esque musical score. Puddles of viscous black oil envelop Jeanne’s naked body in a sensual embrace; she is not covered by an ink void of existential nothingness but submerged by a loving fullness that she has never felt before. As Jeanne painstakingly told Margarette during one of the many heartbreaking arguments: “It’s not a matter of sex, it’s something else.

The emotional trajectory of the Jeanne and Jumbo affair hits all the usual plot rhythms that accompany the catch-all queer romance tale, family rejection giving way to societal resistance. Yet what makes Giant different from other “queer by proxy” novels is the way he views Jeanne’s neurodivergence. His point of view is the driving stylistic device of the film. In an interview with Variety, producer Anais Bertrand described Jeanne is “a little autistic”, and Margarette alludes to the fact that there is something “strange” about her daughter since she was a child. Whether or not Jeanne is on the autism spectrum, the embodiment of Merlant is not a minstrel show exaggerated physical and behavioral tics. Jeanne’s hyper-sensory way of seeing the world is an integral part of the film’s carnival staging, where sounds, colors and textures meet in a euphoric tapestry of heightened feelings and sensations. Interesting way, recent research on objectophilia has found substantial links with autism spectrum disorders and synesthesia. This highly audiovisual perspective is set in the film’s dreamlike opening shot – Joan with her back to the camera in a blackened figure, opening her arms to a giant orb of rotating bright light, like a saint inviting the Holy Spirit to possess his soul.

It’s a risky decision to debut on something as taboo as objectum sexuality., But Giant is one of the most magical and visually captivating romances that I have seen in quite some time. Wittock is revealed to be a deeply thoughtful and empathetic filmmaker, ready to tell a paraphilic fairy tale.


Nicole veneto graduated from Brandeis University with an MA in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, focusing on Feminist Media Studies. His writing has been featured in MAY Feminism and Visual Culture, Film Matters magazineand Boston University Reader Hoochie.

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