Featuring: Philippe Mora, Mirka Mora.
Director: Trevor Graham.
The connectivity of memory, legacy and family is defined with a playful yet profound dexterity in Trevor Graham’s soulful, inspiring documentary, Monsieur Mayonnaise. A portrait of the immigrant experience that is both uniquely personal yet deeply honourable to a generation of ‘new Australians’, Graham’s account of filmmaker Philippe Mora’s search for insight into his parent’s journey from Nazi-occupied Europe to the suburbs of Melbourne deftly encompasses such diverse human experience as the creation of art, the horrors of genocide and the delights of condiment preparation.
Revisiting the same ties that bind the nourishing goodness of food with mankind’s appetite for self-destruction that he examined in his offbeat 2012 crowdpleaser, Make Hummus Not War, Graham has found a willing and compelling cinematic soulmate in Mora. The LA-based expat has embraced a new creative outlet as a graphic novel artist and painter, his broad brush strokes and bold colours recalling the aesthetic that he applied to much of his film oeuvre, several of which are legitimate and beloved cult items (Mad Dog Morgan, 1976; The Return of Captain Invincible, 1983; The Howling II, 1985; Howling 3: The Marsupials, 1987; Communion, 1989).
Graham’s camera travels with Mora to the Melbourne home of his vibrant octogenarian mum, Mirka, a prominent figure for over half a century in the southern capital’s artistic community. Central to their reconnecting is the legacy left by Mora’s late father George, which begins as a warmhearted and mouthwatering recounting of his skill in the kitchen (hinting at but not fully divulging the meaning of the title) before revealing a vast backstory set against the Nazi occupation of Paris and the role George played as the extermination of his people took place around him.
Employing a structure not dissimilar to that which has well served the heritage-themed TV concept ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, Mora’s journey of discovery proves a revelatory experience for both the subject and the audience alike. Having jetted into Paris, Mora travels deep into the countryside of Europe to visit people and places that forged his father’s destiny and the continent’s dark past. The horrors that befell the Jewish people during Hitler’s reign are afforded yet another chilling perspective when Mora finds a museum that honours the hundreds of children lost during the Holocaust, an unforgettable moment that becomes central to a moving final-reel reveal.
As he peels away the layers of family history, Mora also documents his experience on canvas, allowing the film to capture how the events that impact the artist impact his art. It is a meta-rich device that mirrors the experience of the documentarian, forming a triumvirate between the subject, the filmmaker and the audience that transcends the inherent objectivity of the documentary format. Most potently, it imbues the project with a personality and pulse every bit as vibrant and engaging as both Philippe Mora himself and the heritage he yearns to uncover.