Review: Mayor

“I literally can’t deal with this shit,” the mayor says, as untreated sewage seeps into the valley. It’s a cute line. It’s almost as knowing as the interaction between sentence and edit earlier in that sequence, when he complains over the phone that he “can’t put out fires every day”—cut to: a small dumpster fire. These moments overstate the irreverence of Mayor, David Osit’s affectionate documentary about Musa Hadid, the mayor of Ramallah, Palestine’s de-facto capital, located ten miles north of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, in fact, will become central to the film: Osit captures the reaction to the news of Donald Trump’s recognition of the contested city as Israel’s capital, and establishment of the US’s embassy there. The mood in Hadid’s office is harried, sullen: “The country will collapse,” he predicts; and sure enough, with a sureness of touch the editing displays throughout, the next cut is to the inside of a van, the camera looking through the windscreen as the vehicle rounds a corner, and finds a plume of smoke drifting in from the hills. Mayor balances tones like Hadid balances tasks; he faces, with considerable grace, both the small requirements of his position and several, almost insurmountable challenges. Replacing doors in schools; organising the turning on of Christmas tree lights (Ramallah is historically Christian); a fountain show: these constitute the lighter end of his responsibilities. But Hadid’s resources, and the municipality’s generally, are interfered with and undermined by Israel’s occupation, its deliberate withholding of amenities, and later, by its armed incursion into Ramallah’s streets. Similar to Robert Drew’s Primary, a lot of Osit’s film involves trailing behind Hadid, following him burning shoe leather on the city’s pavements, talking with residents, chairing meetings. It too is a study in the construction of a politician’s image, never hiding its admiration for the mayor. Hadid’s a charming subject, an affable person, and a competent public-servant; nowhere is this charm more evident than his admissions of ludditisim, or his bewilderment with the concept of city branding. The widescreen frame immerses him into the city’s landscape, at times risking a cinematic expression of worship rather than approbation: a shot of Hadid surveying a conflict frames the back of his head and shoulders against the cityscape, as though the solution rests with him alone. It’s an exaggeration; Hadid has superiors. But as a way of looking out to look in, the shot has a neat effect. Mayor is a capacious film (and is comprehensively not a “fly-on-the-wall” portrait, because there’s no such thing), able to chart the steady escalation from wry organisational shenanigans to tense sequences of Israeli raids, and Hadid’s composed reactions to all. It’s that very composure that makes Hadid’s case—which is Ramallah’s, which is also Palestine’s—more persuasively than perhaps he realises: “It’s about dignity.”

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