Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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 Post subject: David Osit: Mayor (2020)
PostPosted: Tue Dec 01, 2020 7:33 pm 
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MUSA HADID IN MAYOR

Quietly impressive portrait of a Palestinian mayor

Ramallah, a predominantly Christian Arab city of 57,000 that is impinged upon in all ways by the state of Israel and ringed by Jewish settlements on the hills around, all illegal according to international law, is the de facto capital of the state of Palestine. And so Musa Hadid, the "mayor" referred to in this documentary, is an important figure, known to all and beloved to many. He has much to do, and is frustrated at every turn. The film focuses on Christmastime, and there are preparations under way for a gala outdoor city event of balloons, the climbing down of full-dress Santa Clauses, the lighting of a municipal Christmas tree, and fireworks, which must each take place in order and on cue (they do). There is a discussion of "branding" for the city, which the mayor says just sounds like a slogan to him. (The traffic light near the city hall has smiley faces on its lights.) A new city fountain with a beautiful up-to-date flow pattern has been completed. But there is sewage overflowing again in the valley outside, and Israel won't permit the proper equipment. It has taken decades just to get permission to build a cemetery.

Musa Hadid looks like an ordinary Palestinian man, middle-aged, neatly dressed, graying (and regretting it a bit), a little paunchy, with an e-cigarette usually between his fingers, calm and ironic - and stressed like crazy though you never see it. But you hear him say near the end "I'll need six years to recover from this." When asked "Physically or psychologically?" he answers, "Psychologically."

A group comes from Israel for some kind of cooperative activity. The mayor explains why, given the 53 years of Israeli occupation, this project cannot be. Speaking in English, he explains that it is a matter of dignity, which would be surrendered by doing so. Even when Prince William is to come for a visit, the pros and cons of that must be debated. Who invited him? "All our troubles go back to Britain," someone says. But it is decided that since William is not political, and the British royals never have been, and he's coming in connection with sports, it's okay. In the event, the prince makes a smoothly diplomatic speech as he has been bred to do; stands grandly; and behaves graciously. Followed by the filmmakers visiting in other parts of the world Mayor Hadid is seen visiting. He presents the message, explains the occupation, is a quite spokesman to people who so often have no idea of what situation Ramallah and this mayor live in, or even of the Israeli occupation.

This is a quiet, even passive film. It shows but doesn't highlight Hadid's family, or other people, or report on previous mayors, or travel around the country. Sometimes it seems it, and its subject, are simply bland. But there is an advantage in this quietude. Because it is so unemphatic, the enormity of the situation of trying to be an important mayor in a seemingly endless occupation with constant encroachment is something viewers discover more intensely because they discover it on their own.

There are two big events. Comically, the mayor discovers the city hall has TV that's not plugged in, waiting for someone to decide to order cable. It's needed to observe a big external shock: "that clown's" announcement that the US embassy will be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which the mayor learns of from his priest. This gesture is a huge insult to the Palestinian people and causes great unrest all over the occupied territories. "Have there been any deaths yet?" Mayor Hadid askes. Eventually indeed there are 16 deaths along with numerous injuries reported in Gaza. Trump's thoughtless provocative gesture to please fundamentalist Christians in his base, is doing untold damage here. A quieter American invasion is shown in the usual suspects' outposts, KFC, MacDo's, Starbucks. The town has a modern face, with a nice restaurant near city hall called Café de la Paix.

The mayor says Israel is constantly invading the city more and more boldly, and the second big event is in invasion of Israel soldiers who break into shops demanding to see their surveillance footage. A fracas with Palestinian youths results, and the soldiers come closer and closer to the city hall. Mayor Hadid shows his mettle here, quietly standing his ground and directing others by phone to stay away. He promises not to go out but, in fact, appears for a while on the street helping a journalist blinded by tear gas. There is a terrifying threat of chaos, but the major has not for a moment lost his cool.

Ultimately this understated film makes you think a lot about what the Occupation is like, without seeing the checkpoint where the mayor reports being insulted by being forced to undress by a 16-year-old IDF soldier, or any fixed battle. We see more of the pretty modern city hall with its ultra modern mayor's office and automatic window blinds and the new fountain outside with colored lights and Andrea Bocelli and Cynthia Brightman singing "Time to Say Goodbye" ("Con te partire"). But we know what lies in wait. This is a subtly brilliant film that sucker-punches you, slowly, scene by scene.

Osit, though he is only heard from once, directed, produced and shot the film. He went to high school in Westchester County. He has worked on several projects in the Arab world. He graduated from the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies of the University of Michigan, then attended the American University in Cairo, where he studied Arabic and Refugee Law. He has an MFA in Social Documentary Film from the School of Visual Arts, NYC.

Mayor, 129 mins., debuted at True/False Film Festival (Colombia, MI) 5 Mar. 2020, showing at at least a dozen other festivals including Copenhagen (CPH:DOX - Next Wave prize), San Francisco, Maryland, Woods Hole, Melbourne (virtual), Toronto (Hot Docs), Durham NC (Full Frame: grand jury prize there), Zurich, Hamburg and Warsaw. Also included in DOC NYC, covered here. It will be shown at Film Forum in NYC and also on the internet starting Dec. 2, 2020. Metascore 77.

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