In Monsieur Mayonnaise Australian artist and filmmaker Philippe Mora investigates his father’s clandestine role in the French Résistance in WWII and his mother’s miraculous escape en route to Auschwitz.
What inspired you to find out about the stories of your parents?
Kids always are curious about what their parents don’t want them to know.
Although this changed later, in my early days my parents, like many Holocaust survivors, simply did not want to talk about it. It was still too raw.
So I started collecting information; Marcel Marceau, who visited us regularly as a wartime and postwar friend of both my parents, was very forthcoming with information. He had been my dad’s colleague in the Résistance and my mum’s teacher in Paris.
What were the challenges along the way?
The challenge is to understand why the Holocaust occurred. There are many unanswered questions. Some I will address in a new film Day and Sunlight. This is an ongoing investigation and we keep finding incredible things. For example, my great-aunt Charlotte in Breslau published a thesis in 1915 on Nietsche. Very unusual for a woman then, let alone a Jewish woman. She was murdered in Auschwitz.
Why is mayonnaise significant in this story?
It’s the MacGuffin with some punch. A variation on it became my father’s codename and nickname in the Résistance per Marceau. More than that will be a spoiler for the film. Aside from anything else it’s delicious!
How much did you find out about your family story from your family? Why did you need to look elsewhere to fill in the gaps?
Later in life both my parents were forthcoming about what had happened in WWII. Originally as mentioned, the wounds were still wide open. Any Jewish families that survived have to have incredible stories because the odds were stacked against them. The whole thing is demonic in conception; however, the slaughter of two million children still commands my attention. On a broader canvas I studied history to to get some context, but this is a subject where the more you delve the more you are hit by the enigma and question of ‘Why?’
How does this wild story show itself in you and in your art?
I have made many films that touch on and/or explore what happened in the Third Reich. Since we still do not know what happened in detail and since the effects continue, I believe there are many more films to be made about this subject, not to mention all other forms of history and creative endeavours. As a footnote, Germany just made me a German citizen, restoring the rights the Nazis illegally took away from my family in the Thirties.
Monsieur Mayonnaise screens at the Bangalow A&I Hall on Saturday at 6.30pm.