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…singular and fascinating…
Philippe Mora is an accomplished and rather prolific maker of “comic books, horror films, dramas and documentaries”, but the focus here is on his family history. To be specific, Monsieur Mayonnaise centres on the extraordinary way in which his mother and her family avoided Auschwitz, and the “genuine cloak and dagger” tale of his father’s work with the French Resistance. But there’s plenty more here too.
Mora covers a lot of ground as he interviews people, searches through archives, and visits key places in this complex saga. Starting off from his home in LA, he goes to Melbourne (home of his irrepressibly vivacious artist mother, Mirka), Leipzig (where his late father Georges grew up), and Berlin (where Georges was kicked out of university for being Jewish), among other places. Some of the subject matter is (inevitably) very sad, while a few of the anecdotes are astonishing. Take, for example, the fact that the great mime, Marcel Marceau – later Mora’s godfather – dressed as a nun (along with Georges) to take Jewish kids across the border to safety in Switzerland.
Monsieur Mayonnaise is a tad over-produced, and some of its stylistic flourishes – such as Mora “humorously” seen in film noir/Raymond Chandler guise, smoking and tapping away on an old typewriter – are superfluous. But the true story that it tells is singular and fascinating, even if it could comfortably have been shortened to an hour or less in length. And Mora’s comic book of the same name sounds – or rather looks – excellent, going by the many colourful graphic excerpts from it shown in the documentary. “Comic book” is, of course, as Mora himself observes at one point, an incongruous term for something with such serious subject matter. But then again, as he concludes here, the tragic side of life is all the more reason to enjoy the good stuff – “like art and mayonnaise.”