The first thing you will notice is the cinematography. Shot in elegant black and white, the camera in Paris, 13th District (Les Olympiades, en Francais) is a character unto itself, peering into the windows and lives of the residential towers of the district before settling on three to follow. The camera then follows them, like a close friend, and while the resulting film is lightly paced and slight with the details, it never doesn’t feel intimate and empathetic.
Jumbo, on its face, is about a young woman who falls in love with a carnival ride. No, not “oh hey, I love that ride”, she develops a deep emotional and sexual attachment to a carnival ride.
Yes, that’s a bit weird, but that is just the surface of the story. At its heart, Jumbo is about the fact that love is love, that love is not always what we expect, and that sometimes even if we don’t understand something, acceptance is the best way forward.
In the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, after Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies, Orpheus is advised that he can head to the underworld to retrieve her. He is told that he must lead her back to the surface world but must not look back for her until they are safely returned. As Orpheus crosses the threshold back to the surface, he relents and turns back, but Eurydice is still below and is then doomed to stay in the underworld forever.
This story is at the heart of the theme in Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a film as concerned with memory as it is with love. As the three principal women discuss in the film, is Orpheus a fool for looking back when he knows that will seal his love’s fate? Or is he a fool for love who wants to catch a final glimpse of his love exactly as she is in that moment, exactly as he loves her, and forgo putting them both through a second painful death?