Mayor is one of those brilliantly layered observational films that surge with vivid actualities – not necessarily a difficult task given that your subject is the lovable, impassioned mayor of a Palestinian city in the West Bank. But in producer /director David Osit’s (Thank You For Playing) capable hands, Mayor is a stellar realization of the approach. The film becomes an abundant world where the smallest of interactions resonate with global, even universal significance. The film is a dazzling confluence of the political and the personal and the social.
Shot over 18 months, Mayor follows Musa Hadid, the Christian mayor of Ramallah, a city surrounded by Israeli settlements. There is a remarkable candour (and some very dark humour) here as we observe him in his many daily roles as advocate, problem solver, and colleague. Hadid is perpetually distracted – in good and bad ways – from his personal goal of beautifying the city. Although quite vocal about the injustice of the occupation, he focuses on a positive way to deal with the powerlessness of the situation. He cares for the people as much as they care for him – witness a hilarious scene in which a man insists that they share lunch together even though Hadid is already late to a meeting.
We see that this mayor has to juggle local considerations with the larger issues of the region: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Osit skillfully balances the various moods and tones – and their ever changing nature. A seemingly straightforward event such as the annual lighting of the Christmas tree is not a simple matter. The usual clash of opinions among the organizers pales in comparison to the context of this event occurring during an occupation.
This reality is ever present in Mayor. With settlements encroaching and persistent clashes with Israeli soldiers, there’s a tension that permeates every interaction. Add to that the US decision to move their Israeli embassy to Jerusalem and it often feels like the film consists of a series of concentric circles that collapse in on each other regularly.
Osit maintains a tight rein on the film with his style, an effect that underscores this consistent tension. His camera maintains a constricted grip on the action even as it observes. The very framing of each shot is often taut and self-conscious, providing an added underlying tension that threatens to burst the film open.
Daily life is already filled with contradictions but in Mayor, in this unusual situation, all of the tensions and sadness and beauty and laughter are heightened as if to remind us that life goes on no matter what. And people like Mossa Hadid, proud mayor, tirelessly working for the good of his people, will carry on in strength and power and dignity.
Mayor screens at Hot Docs‘ online festival.