While in Berlin, Germany for the 2020 Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale) CineVino met up with Zoé Wittock, the director of Jumbo and Noémie Merlant, rising French actress who is the star of the movie. Jumbo premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. In this interview we talk about Noémie’s dedication to the craft, the theme of Objectum Sexuality, Zoé’s advice for young filmmakers and the power of belief.
Eric Ethan: Noémie Merlant, what was it like working with Zoé Wittock?
Noémie Merlant: Well, what is nice is she really likes to go.. I don’t know if I speak well, but she likes to go deeper into the work.
Zoé Wittock: Yeah to dig deeper into the character and the work.
Noémie Merlant: Yeah, and it’s a mix of work and joyful work and to always go further. That is what I like, the challenge. And she is like that. We have a big complicity with that.
Zoé Wittock: Yeah, it was fun she can take it anywhere, you know. As a director it is so fun to work with her because you are like “oh take it left” and she is like “okay!” And you say take it right and she says “okay!” she is willing to take a risk on it. She takes a chance on things and I think it’s also about trust because then she is unafraid I think and just going for it. To take on a role like that, you have to be courageous in some way.
Eric: Do you have any advice for filmmakers? For young female filmmakers?
Zoé Wittock: My advice would be just for young filmmakers generally, because I think if at the time when I started film people had made me realize that I was a female filmmaker and that it might be harder because of that then maybe I would not I have had the courage to do it, because I really want to generalize it because keep on to that passion and keep on going straight like a bulldozer. If you doubt, just keep going. And it’s about faith and it’s about listening to yourself and really believing that you can make it. And if you believe in yourself other people at some point will start believing in you. That power is so strong. It’s the power of belief, which actually the movie is talking about. Like, when you believe in something it is real to you and if you are strong enough you can make it real to the people around you.
Eric: Please share a brief synopsis of what your film Jumbo about?
Zoé Wittock: The film is about a mother and a daughter. They are living together and they have a very fusional relationship and the daughter who is very introvert works at a fun fair, at an attraction park at night. And one night, one of the machines comes to life and she starts a relationship with that machine which she will decide to share with her mother even though she is not very happy about it. So the movie is about that relationship with the machine and how that family, the mother kind of responds to it.
Eric: How did you approach the subject of Objectum Sexuality?
Zoé Wittock: It’s interesting because you might have a tendency to study Objectum Sexuality on the spectrum of mental illness potentially and kind of like a doctor looking at a patient, and the audience being that curious like she is the freak and we are the curious people looking in on it. To keep the distance. But when you are treating it like a love story, and trying to get the audience to engage with that person and to understand them really and not just to understand them intellectually but emotionally, then it becomes probably more challenging for the audience but at the same time so much more rewarding when you are there at the end of the film you are like wow, I actually feel happy and sad for this character. And you know, Noémie is so authentic in how she approaches the character. Like, when you are playing that character, she believe so much that she in love with that ride. There is not one moment where you question it. And I thought, if I was going to do a fiction instead of a documentary, we needed to be able to explore the power of authenticity and the power of belief that I was talking about before.
Jumbo previously premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and is currently screening as part of the Generations section of the 2020 Berlinale.