What does art, comics, food, Nazis and horror films have in common? Well they are all linked intimately in documentarian Trevor Graham’s latest work Monsieur Mayonnaise. We sat down for a chat with the director to find out how all these extraordinary elements come together in the life of one Australian family.
“It all sounds terribly whacky … and it is,” Graham admits. “It isn’t your typical documentary in terms of style. Monsieur Mayonnaise is a strong, emotionally engaging and funny story. If you have that strong spine for a story you can take audiences to places the audience wouldn’t necessarily think of. Like that connection between Adolph Hitler and werewolves. Nazis, French food, mayonnaise, the Holocaust – they are all tied together by Phillipe Mora and his work. “
Phillipe Mora is probably best known for his horror sequels to the classic horror film The Howling (including the incredibly strange piece of schlock cinema Howling 3: The Marsupials). Although Mora’s family has a rather interesting history of its own. Monsieur Mayonnaise traces Mora’s attempts to record this history with his art, especially the poignant aspect of how his Jewish family survived in a Nazi occupied Europe during World War 2. “The film is about a comic being made by artist and director Phillipe Mora. It’s about his parent’s survival of the holocaust. It seemed an interesting personal thing for him to be doing and could be the basis for a film. There are a lot of elements coming together through his work that drew me to his story. The family story is an interesting one in itself, but I feel the creation of a comic added an interesting dimension on how you can tell a story about that period of history.”
With so many elements in play, and such a serious subject matter at its core, Graham had some doubts about how its tone would be perceived. The results however have been promising. “You wonder how it is all going to come together and people are going to respond to it. You never really know, but I think the proof is in the pudding. It’s had great responses at MIFF. When the audience is laughing on cue, and reaching for the Kleenex on cue, you’re relieved.”
“I was treading on eggshells with this one, as I was dealing with the holocaust. I wanted people to be able to laugh and cry. I think humour is important to documentary, and sadly it is not used enough. It is incredibly important in dealing with tragic issues. You don’t want the audience to laugh at the tragedy, but to feel the humour is part of the tragedy. It helps support that sense of togetherness. That Old Jewish Proverb – we laugh so we don’t cry. You find a way through. In the Moria family they did that through art, humour and film. That’s the philosophy of this film.”
Monsieur Mayonnaise is the second film in what Graham refers to as his “food trilogy”. With Make Hummus Not War, touching on the Israeli Palestine conflict (through the lens of the “hummus war”) and this covering World War 2, it will be interesting to see what the future holds. Graham thinks chocolate may be next, he just needs the right tale to attach to it.
Monsieur Mayonnaise is screening as part of the Jewish International Film Festival.