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Film review: Mayor, and Body of Water

22 January 2021

Stephen Brown reviews current film releases

A still of the Palestinian Christian Mayor of Ramallah, Musa Hadid, from the documentary Mayor

A still of the Palestinian Christian Mayor of Ramallah, Musa Hadid, from the documentary Mayor

FROM the outset, David Osit’s film Mayor (Cert. 12) attempts to educate us about Middle Eastern politics. The title refers to Musa Hadid, Christian head of the Palestinian municipality of Ramallah, a few miles north of Jerusalem.

Opening credits describing Ramallah as the historically Christian city may surprise the outside world conditioned to believe that all Arabs are Muslims. While Christians including Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Quakers, Lutherans, Baptists, Coptics, and Jehovah’s Witnesses constitute a sizeable minority there, Islam claims a greater number of adherents.

We see no evidence that different faith traditions pose any problems, as citizens work harmoniously together within the limits imposed by the illegal West Bank settlements surrounding them. Lack of space to expand prevents the construction of vital utilities, such as a badly needed sewage plant. It took 15 years for the Israeli authorities to grant permission for them to have their own cemetery.

The Mayor, now in his second term of office, has an ability to hold everyone together. and not only through a general frustration about their Israeli overlords. He employs his own faith as a means of building up the common life. Central to the film is the forthcoming completion of a large fountain outside City Hall. Like other symbolic gestures — the lighting of the Christmas tree and the Easter parade — Musa bids the people “remember to make space for joy until we get freedom and independence”. There is a chilling irony that he can travel to Washington, Oxford, and Durban, but not Jerusalem. “I feel jealous sometimes when I visit other cities,” he says. “There’s so much they can do that we can’t. Not because we don’t want to, but because it’s not in our hands.”

Resentment over this is exacerbated when President Trump announces the US Embassy’s move to Jerusalem. Analysts tend to interpret this as a sop to his Evangelical supporters. Such fellow Christians don’t impress Musa. The Palestinian cause is more than a matter of faith. “We seek the protection of the entire world from the pressures of occupation.”

In pursuit of this, he entertains a German political delegation, who gently begin advocating renewed diplomatic effort between Palestine and Israel. Musa halts them mid-flow. “It’s about dignity.” This for him is non-negotiable. “When it comes to the identity of yourself, it’s not acceptable, OK? When we feel we are not treated as slaves and they are masters, we are ready to do everything. But when I have to take off all my clothes because a 16-year-old soldier is asking me to do so under the threat of his weapon, it’s about dignity.”

The documentary covers a terrifying raid by Israeli troopers, allegedly suspecting an imminent act of terrorism. The epicentre of their incursion is the Café de la Paix, which Musa frequents. Life subsequently resumes a measure of normality. In the name of Jesus, Musa switches on the long-planned fountain (somewhat damaged in the skirmishes), and we are treated to a spectacular water display amid the strains of Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman singing “Time to Say Goodbye” to darkness. Hope springs eternal.

Available on Curzon Home Cinema and Dogwoof


CANVEY ISLAND’s sea wall is a recurring metaphor in Lucy Brydon’s film Body of Water (Cert. 15). A relentless Essex tide threatens to overcome its defences, reflecting an anorexic mother’s desperate attempts to hold back urges not to eat. We are left to guess why Stephanie (Siân Brooke) is afflicted in this way. The movie, without judging, observes the social dynamics of one particular situation: Stephanie’s return after seven months to the family circle.

Her mother, Susan (Amanda Burton), is at the end of her tether in how best to help. Alternately warmly encouraging and tactlessly scolding, she fails in some part of her to accept that anorexia is an illness. She has also had the task of looking after her granddaughter Pearl (Fabienne Piolini-Castle) during Stephanie’s repeated hospitalisations. The 15-year-old resents her mother’s absences, and the rebuilding of trust takes its toll on everyone.

Siân Brooke as Stephanie in Body of Water

Body of Water has one of those narratives that will culminate in an event. Here it is Susan’s forthcoming wedding to Annette (Kazia Pelka), at which daughter and granddaughter will be bridesmaids. Stephanie’s body cuts a pitiful figure in contrast to Susan’s fulsome one when trying on respective dresses for the occasion. Noteworthy is an absence of males in the film. The main exception is the nurse Shaun (Nick Blood), whose regular home visits begin to blur professional boundaries. His presence becomes part of the problem, less the solution. Nobody is entirely reliable.

The fact is, as far as this account of anorexia is concerned, there is no solution in sight. It is the lack of help or, rather, the feeling of helplessness which dominates a picture displaying little light. Amanda Burton is pitch-perfect in relaying the frustrations that a mother must feel in being unable to feed and nurture her child. Pearl is similarly all at sea, drowning in misery. Stephanie, all too sensitised to the effect that she is having, feels incapable of remedying the situation.

Beholding this may assist a realisation that family wounds are not proof of badness on anyone’s part, but evidence of the vulnerability that we fragile humans are heirs to. Food is an emotional and spiritual issue and may be symptomatic of other longings. The Kalahari Bush people speak of the greater hunger, the quest for the meaning of life, and psychiatrists such as Alexandra Pittock liken sufferers’ dietary obedience to the dictates of a deity. We see Stephanie posting pro-anorexia photos on a Thinspiration website offering freedom through “life ever-fasting”. This film raises questions about where the search for wholeness of being may lie, without the slightest hint of any answer.

Released on DVD and online: iTunes, Amazon, Google, BFI Player, Curzon Home Cinema, and Sky Store

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