Sundance 2020: Thomas Buelens on Bringing “Jumbo” to Life

Thomas Buelens Jumbo Thomas Buelens (Photo: IMDb)

Welcome back to More of a Comment, Really…, a weekly interview podcast hosted by Clint Worthington! Every episode will feature interviews with actors, filmmakers, producers, and more, giving you the skinny on the latest films and TV.

This Valentine’s Day, it’s important to remember that love can take many forms — romantic, platonic, sexual, familial. The best love stories are tales of struggle, of people fighting for (and, in the non-sad ones) earning their partner’s affection, regardless of the social and cultural barriers placed before them. It’s been gratifying to see Céline Sciamma’s exquisite lesbian romance Portrait of a Lady on Fire bandied about as the ultimate date movie for this romantic weekend; more people, in my humble opinion, should watch good movies, and Portrait is certainly one of those.

But Portrait star Noémie Merlant has another unconventional love story to show us, as festivalgoers discovered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival: Zoé Wittock’s droll, darkly comic romance Jumbo. Here, Merlant plays Jeanne, an emotionally-stunted adult woman living a life of isolation and loneliness with her outgoing, divorced mother (Emmanuelle Bercot). She’s withdrawn, strange, and finds little kinship with others. But love strikes her in the most unconventional ways (as it is often wont to do): in the form of the latest attraction at the amusement park where she works, an enormous tilt-a-whirl called “Move it!”, which she affectionately calls Jumbo.

Crafting a romance between a woman and an amusement park ride is no small feat, especially within the auspices of an otherwise genre-typical European dark comedy. But one of Jumbo‘s joys is watching the way Wittock and cinematographer Thomas Buelens bring the titular attraction to life — a staggering combination of dynamic, programmable lighting in conjunction with sound design and Merlant’s performance. Not only that, the divide between the straightforward confines of Jeanne’s everyday world and the bold, presentational surrealism of her erotic fantasies with Jumbo was a bold stylistic and logistical feat, evoking the strangeness of Under the Skin as imposed onto a Quentin Dupieux-esque anti-comedy.

Shortly after Sundance, I got the chance to sit down with Buelens to talk about the process behind crafting Jumbo‘s gargantuan love interest, his perspective behind the camera, and threading the needle between domestic comedy and full-on mechanical sex dreams. Take a listen!

(More of a Comment, Really… is a proud member of the Chicago Podcast Coop. Thanks to Snake People for sponsoring this episode!)

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