Monday was a light day for me at AFIFest 2020 Presented by Audi. But even though I only have two films to report on today, the films themselves were not light.
“Inanimate object, do you have a soul that sticks to our soul and forces us to love?” Belgian director Zoé Wittock brings her premier feature Jumbo to the festival. Inspired by a true story, it tells of a young woman who falls in love with an amusement park ride. Yes, it sounds strange, and it is. Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) is an extremely introverted young woman who works after hours at an amusement park. When a new ride arrives, it seems to be in tune with her emotionally. Her boss is attracted to her, but her heart belongs to the ride she has christened Jumbo. Her mother, who was abandoned by Jeanne’s father only wants for Jeanne to find love and happiness, but not the kind of love one has for a machine. The stress of such an forbidden love is destroying Jeanne’s relationship with those around her, and threatens to leave her in a severe depression. Such attractions to inanimate objects is a condition that some people really do have. But if someone like Jeanne finds their joy in fulfillment in such love that does no harm to others, should it be challenged or accepted for what it is?
There always seems to be a doc showing at AFIFest that I know I’ll resonate with because of its left of center subject. This year’s version is The Big Scary “S” Word, from Yael Bridge. Perhaps the theme phrase is said by Cornell West: “Socialism in as American as apple pie.” This film gives a bit of the history of socialism in the US (including its role in the founding of the Republican Party [!]). Socialism, as it is found in this documentary, is the idea that society works best when it works to serve everyone. Among the ways this is highlighted in the film is teachers in Oklahoma fighting for more school funding, a socialist elected to the Virginia legislature, and the Bank of North Dakota (state-owned, the very definition of socialism). The emergence of people like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in recent years has brought socialism into out field of vision again. Socialism is indeed a “big scary word” in US politics. The term has been rolled out since the time of Teddy Roosevelt to disparage anything progressive. Things like trust busting, Social Security, and Medicare were all branded as socialism.
Given that I have a strong affinity for the subject, I hate that I found the film wanting. The title of the film identifies the emotional response to socialism. This film is far too cerebral to combat that emotional response. I would concur with Cornell West about socialism being part of the very nature of the American dream. But to make others see it that way can’t be just a matter of reason alone. The film lacks (for the most part) any real passion or any sense of the moral rationale for socialism. The film alludes at a few points to the idea that we need a broad social movement to bring socialism into the fore, but no practical information as to how to being that about. Probably my biggest disappointment is that the film doesn’t confront what may be the hardest to bring socialism to the US, the political system that is so dependent on money (especially corporate money). Sanders and AOC continue to be on the outer edges of politics. A few faces of socialism will never overcome the might of money.