Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | April 29th, 2022
Peace by Chocolate (Jonathan Keijser, 2022) 3 out of 4 stars.
A true story brought to dramatic life with a combination of genuine humor and deep pathos, Peace by Chocolate tackles the weighty issues of our present with a healthy dose of whimsy. A tale of refugees who make good, it follows the odyssey of the Hadhad family as they try to start over after leaving war-torn Syria. Twentysomething Tareq is the first to arrive in Nova Scotia, the culture shock and cold weather initially quite intimidating. Soon he is joined by father Issam and mother Shahnaz; sister Alaa is denied a visa for a bit. Life in the small town of Antagonish—far from the Toronto of which they dreamed—may seem daunting, but before long they see a way back from tragedy.
For it seems that Issam is a famed (at least in Syria) chocolatier, and he is decidedly unimpressed with Antagonish’s chocolate offerings. So he starts making his own sweets in the house lent to the Hadhads upon arrival, and soon their local host is helping him hawk the goodies at the nearby church. They’re a hit, and it seems like this business could allow the family some form of acceptance and maybe even prosperity. But there are snags along the way.
Among them is the fact that Tareq, destined to follow in his father’s footsteps, instead wants to be a doctor. His own ambitions are currently thwarted by the fact that no Canadian schools will admit him to their programs, however. Still, his heart is not in the making of chocolate. And then there are those Nova Scotians (especially the hometown chocolatier of Antagonish!) who are unmoved by the plight of war refugees, seeing them as intruders. As the opportunities rise, so, too, do the tensions.
Director Jonathan Keijser (What Would Beethoven Do?)—whom I met at the 2022 Annapolis Film Festival, where I saw this film—keeps the various conflicts moving in mostly perfect counterpoint and harmony, even if the comedy in the occasional scene rings forced. His actors almost all deliver winning performances, with the late Hatem Ali a particular standout. Ayham Abou Ammar, as Tareq, is also fine, as is Mark Camacho (Most Wanted), as Frank, an Antagonish man who befriends the Hadhads. Best of all is the fact that this is based on real life, the title also the name of the Hadhads’ actual chocolate company. So the happy ending is genuine.
But there is certainly grief and sorrow (not the least of which is the loss of Ali) that underpins the narrative. The world is riven by conflict, today’s war in Ukraine just an ongoing continuation of humanity’s inability to stop destroying itself. At least there is good, as well, and if it happens to be yummy (and who doesn’t love chocolate?), all the better. Get your peace on, then, and enjoy its delicious taste.