Waiting for the Oscars
As a boy, Jean de Meuron would rise in the dead of the European night to cheer the Academy Award recipients ascending gilded stages on the far side of the Atlantic. He relished this annual celebration of a world he deeply admired: he was a student of Hollywood history, a fan of Spielberg’s Indiana Jones, a dreamer gripped by the allure of the American entertainment industry.
So here he came, from Switzerland, in 2008, embedding himself in studies at the New York Film Academy, USC, UCLA and the New School; bunking down in internships at the Weinstein Company, MTV, Viacom International Media Networks and Paramount. He would go anywhere – New York City, Los Angeles, Mexico, Buenos Aires – as he produced student films and peppered executives with questions at every stop. He learned about marketing campaigns, about the importance of everything from color schemes to timing to creating effective trailers.
It was an immersive course in filmmaking and marketing, fueled by an unwavering vision of what his life ought to be. It was this resolute focus that led him to the 2012 Basel Gässli Film Festival in his native Switzerland, where he met a young director named Timo von Gunten, a preternatural talent whose work – the editing, framing, storytelling – echoed legendary Amelie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. And it was his partnership with von Gunten, as executive producer (along with Bela Bök) on the short film La Femme et le TGV, that last month opened up the Oscars in a way de Meuron’s boyhood self would not have believed: live, at the event, as a nominee.
It would be the culmination of a lifelong ambition, the highest professional acknowledgement in one of the most prominent creative industries in the world. But like an artisan crafting a beautiful piece of furniture, a filmmaker does not spring wholly into the existence with the knowledge of his art, but learns it through a long apprenticeship. For de Meuron, his time at Paramount would prove crucial to plan, produce, edit and promote La Femme et le TGV.
A rich, nostalgic world
It helps to understand, first, what they have made, for an Oscar nomination is reserved for those things that are exceptional.
La Femme et le TGV is set in an idyllic mountain landscape pancaked with cliff bands in the green and field-dotted wilderness outside the impossibly quaint town of Monbijou, Switzerland. At the center of this world is Elise Lafontaine (Jane Birkin), and hammering through it in a shimmering streak of steel and noise is the twice-daily TGV high-speed train. Every day for 32 years, at 6:18 a.m. and again at 7:13 p.m. Lafontaine has leaned, Swiss flag waving, from the window for these joyous passings.