Monsieur Mayonnaise

MONSIEUR MAYONNAISE, Australia, 2016. Philippe Mora. Directed by Trevor Graham. 88 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes and nudity)

Obviously, some Gallic touches with a title like this – and some sequences on the making of mayonnaise, on the variety of ingredients, that may startle some with cooking interests.

However, this is an excellent documentary, always interesting and entertaining, a strong 90 minute episode along the lines of “Where do you come from…?”. The you in this particular case is Australian director and artist, Philippe Mora.

While the film is about his parents and their extraordinary story, especially during World War II, the film was also a revelation about Philippe himself and his very interesting career.

As a framework for the film, Philippe Mora is drawing panels for a comic book, one of his specialties, on the background, history and exploits of his parents, Georges and Mirka. We see the artist at work, the details of his painting so many panels (even to various daubs of mayonnaise). He also uses the device of having himself sit at a desk, rather in the dark, private eye hat, American accent, typing the story for a film noir which is how he sees much of his parents’ lives.

 At the opening, there are home movies of the Moras on the beach at Aspendale. The family moved to Melbourne in 1951. It was assumed that Georges was French and it was only much later that it emerged that his real name was Gunter, that he was from Leipzig, that he was studying at the University, medicine, but escaped in 1933 from Hitler’s Germany to Paris where he lived the rest of the 30s, changed his name and identity in occupied France, escaped to the South and spent a great deal of his energy in aiding Jewish children to get out of France, working much of the time in collaboration with Marcel Marceau (even to their disguising themselves as nuns getting children to the Swiss border), who is Philippe Mora’s godfather. (Georges refused to speak German until towards the end of his life).

 Mirka was younger, she and her sisters rounded up in 1942 but able to escape and taken in by a family and hidden in a French village until the liberation of France in 1944. With the emerging of the Cold War after 1947, Mirka decided that she did not want to live in Europe with the threat of war and so the couple moved to Australia where they raised their children, Mirka becoming a celebrity in the art world with her painting, her more than touches of bohemian behaviour, with Georges and Mirka opening a gallery, encouraging artists, and then moving into their celebrated restaurants. They separated in 1970. Georges remarried but died in the 1980s while, at the making of the film, Mirka was a vivacious 88, still painting and cooking.

 There are plenty of home movies and clips, of scenes from films, including Philippe Mora’s portrait of the Third Reich, Swastika, interviews including a daughter of the French family who sheltered Mirka and her sisters, an American psychiatrist who is one of the children saved by Georges.

 Philippe is a constant presence throughout the film, with some comments by his brother William. Audiences, perhaps not familiar with the fact that Philippe made several horror films including two of the Howling movies, will be more than startled when the film suddenly shows some horror and gore clips!

 The film moves at a lively pace, is always interesting – and introducing some new aspect of the life of the Moras.

 JIFF     released December 1st

 Peter Malone

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