Palestine Stereo sounds like the name of a music shop.
But in Rashid Masharawi's new film, his sixth feature, Palestine Stereo is a character, a former wedding singer. Stereo hustles around Ramallah in a second-hand ambulance, providing sound systems for funerals, birthdays and political rallies.
Stereo (Mahmoud Abou Jazi) lost his wife when Israeli planes bombed his house. His brother, curly-headed Samy (Salah Hannoun), is an electrician who lost his hearing and his ability to speak in the same attack. Now Samy scrawls messages on the family's walls. Demoralised, both brothers now have one goal, to emigrate to Canada.
Masharawi's gentle satire is personal, yet mostly not autobiographical. In the Palestinian Territories, said the Gaza-born filmmaker, speaking from his producer's office in Tunisia, life is in confusing stereo - the multiple channels don't necessarily say the same thing.
"We have many voices in Palestine coming from different places. We're under occupation with two states - one in Gaza and one on the West Bank. The idea of stereo is about sound. It's not just the name of a character," Masharawi said.
While Stereo mocks political leaders, lip-synching their speeches from his sound controls, the mute Samy can't hear them. Both shell-shocked men chase a dream.
"They want to disappear from their own memory, from their own history," Masharawi, 51, explained, calling them paradoxical, yet typical. "You are in exile at home, and you think that your homeland should be somewhere outside, while at the same time every day you are celebrating this history, participating in a life that you are running from."
Facing that conundrum, one reasonable answer for many Palestinians, Masharawi says, is to leave. The director says he did the same - three times. "I thought I'd support Palestine from the outside. I said: 'I'll support these people in my films.' But I found that I had to be there. I had to share in the destiny. Not as a slogan, not as nationalism. This is who I am."
Masharawi's father spent his life trying to return home.
"When he left Jaffa in 1948, he thought it would be three weeks before he'd go back. Sixty years later, he died in Gaza - waiting for those three weeks. We grew up with that, with this memory."
In Palestine Stereo, that frustration makes for absurd punchlines, as the two brothers shop for cold weather clothes in the Palestinian sun. Their ambulance confounds protesters desperate to take their wounded to hospital. And the events for which they provide sound (which Samy can't hear) all seem to end in chaos.
Produced with funds from Tunisia, Europe, the UAE and the Palestine Authority, Palestine Stereo is the most expensive film made in Palestine, costing some US$1.5 million (Dh5.5m). Masharawi said that the logistics of constructing border checkpoints (within Ramallah) and organising crowd scenes with teams of extras drove the budget beyond that of Leila's Birthday (2008), his previous feature, which followed a taxi around Ramallah. "Each film is a training project for young Palestinian girls and boys to have a real experience in cinema," the filmmaker stressed. And maybe a reason to stay there.
Palestine Stereo will be showing as part of the Toronto International Film Festival tomorrow (9.30pm), Saturday (2.15pm) and September 15 (6pm)