Peace by Chocolate
Magnetic North Pictures
Reviewed by Tami Smith, Film Reviewer for Shockya
Director: Jonathan Keijser
Screenwriters: Jonathan Keijser, Abdul Malik
Cast: Hatem Ali, Ayham Abou Ammar, Mark Camacho, Yara Sabri, Justin Trudeau
Release Date: TBA
When Tareq Hadhad (Ayham Abou Ammar), a refugee from Syria, landed in Halifax airport in 2012 his first interaction was with a Canadian sponsor who gave him a big bear hug, a parka and a wool hat imprinted with large capital letters CANADA. His second interaction was with the harsh Canadian winter, a shock to the system of a person who lived most of his life in the Damascus and never saw a snow flake. Tareq was luckier than other Syrian refugees. After spending time in a refugee camp in Lebanon he and his family were cleared to enter Canada, where the government provided them with a small monthly stipend and lodging for one year. The warm-hearted residents of Antigonish (pop. 4,500), a small town in eastern Nova Scotia, provided moral support, help and advice.
Tareq’s initial intention was to continue his medical studies, but his personal life was placed on the back-burner while dealing with the immediate family, a new country, and his father’s desire to move to Toronto and continue the production of chocolate, which was interrupted by the Syrian civil war.
Director and screenwriter Jonathan Keijser, a Nova Scotian himself, developed the screenplay with Abdul Malik after viewing a Canadian CBC News report and listening to a speech by Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister. Hadhad’s family story is told with humor that gives a comic touch to the plight of the Syrian refugees in Canada, but some characters appear cartoonish and conforming to viewers’ expectations of a refugee family, out of its element in a strange and far land.
Hatem Ali (1962-2020) is cast as Isam, the senior patriarch of the Hadhad clan that has one mission in life: to continue being a chocolatier and recreate the factory he operated for years in Damascus. Though unable to read, write or speak English, he gets by with visual expressions and hand movements while continuing at his pursuit relentlessly.
Ayham Abou Ammar plays Tareq Hadhad, Isam’s son, who feels conflicted between a desire to complete his medical education in Halifax and the familial obligations to his father in Antigonish. While crossing the U.S./Canada border to give a lecture by invitation of Vermont’s governor he is detained overnight by an overzealous American officer, due to lack of proper paperwork. After missing his appointment he is forced to return to Canada and is given a warning not to enter the United States for the next five years!
Mark Camacho is cast as Frank Gallant, Hadhad’s family sponsor and advisor. An accountant by profession he can think outside the box and helps Isam to start his Peace by Chocolate venture, with a catchy phrase: Peace by Chocolate, One Peace Won’t Hurt.
Yara Sabri who plays Shahnaz, Isam’s wife and Tareq’s mother, presents a practical woman with a negative view on life in Canada and her family’s future. During one scene she keeps chastising her husband repeatedly with one Arabic word that says all: chalas, roughly translated as “finished”, “enough” or “it is over” in response to his desire to create chocolates. Alas she is proven wrong!
Supporting roles are performed by Laurent Pitre as Liam, the factory’s first employee, a dorky fellow who adjusts and communicates with his employer while using hand gestures. Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister makes two brief appearances, thanking the family for their contribution to the country’s economy.
Peace by Chocolate was filmed in Montreal during the winter of 2020, under the direction of cinematographer Benoit Beaulieu. Monsieur Beaulieu captured the true essence of the cold Canadian winter and its effects on the new settlers. This is a warm-hearted and uplifting film that will comfort viewers during present pandemic times. It was produced In English and Arabic with subtitles.
For information about the chocolate factory go to: https://peacebychocolate.ca
96 minutes Rated: NR © Tami Smith, Film Reviewer