Awards Daily talks to writer/director Zoé Wittock about her objectophilia romance Jumbo, the story of a young woman and the amusement park ride that gives her a thrill like no other.
When I tell writer/director Zoé Wittock that I read on IMDB that the titular character of her film Jumbo has a last name, she is seemingly surprised.
“Really? I didn’t know!” she laughs. “You’re teaching me something.”
It’s fitting that Jumbo would have a life of his own, given that the film’s premise is about a woman named Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) becoming romantically involved with an amusement park ride named Move-It, which she lovingly calls Jumbo.
Like Beauty and the Beast and other similar films that have come before it, Jumbo explores an unconventional romance that’s only flaw is when outsiders try to intrude on it, which speaks to many types of relationships—even those that aren’t with a Tilt-A-Whirl.
A Girl and the Eiffel Tower
One of the things that’s most striking about Jumbo is its respect to its characters, especially Jeanne, who is never depicted as goofy—she’s just a young woman in love, and her behavior isn’t atypical from anyone experiencing the rush of infatuation for the first time.
“The one person I talked the most to was Erika Eiffel, who married the Eiffel Tower. That encounter is really what drove the film to what it became. The more I talked to her, the more I realized how normal and grounded she was. Every time I was trying to challenge the story, she would bring it back to a love story.”
Eventually, when the film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, Eiffel was able to see the film, something that made Wittock nervous because she didn’t want Eiffel to feel awkward, especially with the way the media depicts the subject matter.
“She laughed with people, she cried with people, she was really touched. I guess that was the biggest reward I could get.”
What It was Like Filming Jumbo’s Sex Scene
Like any good romance, you need a love scene, and Jumbo certainly has one that you won’t forget, consisting of a white room and lots and lots of oil. Wittock says that the scene was always there in the script, but it didn’t really move at first. Things started to come together when she thought of the scene as how to visually describe what an orgasm would look like.
“An infinite white rush of energy sort of just came. It was so evident that that had to be it in that sequence. Whenever I tried challenging it, I always went back to it.”
Then Wittock had to think about juxtaposing the black oil against the white infinite backdrop, making it creepy while also sensual.
“There’s a moment where it verges on horror, but it’s romance. We always slipped from one to the next.”
A Love Horror Story
A YouTube fan edit on this film could easily depict Jumbo as a horror story. A young woman is all alone after hours at an amusement park with a ride that comes to life. Certain moments in the film are eerie, especially when Jumbo responds via swirling lights or dims in the distance. Wittock said that she played around with these horror tropes purposefully, as she often likes to blend genres in order to bring out different elements.
“It is a bit of a horror story. Imagine having to tell that to your mother and having to come to terms with this and come to terms with it yourself. We see a lot of coming-of-age movies, but when you take it to that extreme, the horror of coming of age within yourself comes back to the surface. At first you think it’s an easy romance for her, but the more you get the outside world into her little perfect bubble, the more the bubble darkens and becomes horrific and difficult to live with.”
While many coming-of-age films involve teenagers, Wittock stays mum on Jeanne’s age (the actress who plays her is in her 30s), even though the character often feels like a teenager.
“Not knowing her age pushes you to put yourself into her shoes. She has a very sexual body and yet she’s very childlike, because she doesn’t understand the sexuality of it. It allows you to put your own interpretation of it, depending on your own experiences.”
Objectophilia and the Unexplored Female Love of Inanimate Things
It’s not like people-in-love-with-objects hasn’t been done in film before. (See: Mannequin, Her, and Lars and the Real Girl.) But one thing Jumbo‘s predecessors have in common is that they have male protagonists, which is interesting considering that the most known case of objectophilia involves a woman marrying the Eiffel Tower (and plenty of other women have married objects—Google it!). Why haven’t women been in this film narrative until now?
“I don’t know,” says Wittock with a laugh. “Obviously the reality of the politics of it is why. We’re less attracted by the sensationalism of it all and more attracted to the emotion. Here, I tried to do both.”
Jumbo‘s forbidden romance also highlights commentary on modern-day relationships, when Marc (Bastien Bouillon) discovers Jeanne naked with Jumbo and is immediately thinking about why the inanimate object provides her with satisfaction and he doesn’t.
“The idea was not for me to comment on it, but for me to be as truthful as I could to how this specific character would react. It’s very truthful to human nature; we’re always bringing it back to us.”
Megan McLachlan is a freelance writer that lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work has appeared in Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, The Cut, Paste, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Thrillist, and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @heydudemeg.