Peace by Chocolate

A film that warms the heart, gives faith in a better future

Peace by Chocolate
In an effort to ensure as much authenticity as possible, Keijser sought out actors who speak Arabic with the correct Syrian accent so that an informed audience would recognize the family members as being from their region. (Photos: Imdb, and Handouts from Amman International Film Festival)
Peace by Chocolate is the film that will air first at the third edition of Amman International Film Festival-Awal Film, which starts today. It is also the debut feature film of Jonathan Keijser, who is co-writing the screenplay.اضافة اعلان

Tareq Hadhad (Ayham Abou Ammar) is one of the Syrian refugees welcomed by the Canadian government in 2016. The young man, who dreams of becoming a doctor, finds himself in the small town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia. There, in the midst of just over 4,000 inhabitants, he slowly acclimates. Then, his parents, Issam (Hatem Ali, since deceased) and Shahnaz (Yara Sabri), come to join him; they are still waiting for his sister (Najlaa Al-Khamri) and his brother-in-law, who will be killed before being able to cross the Atlantic.

Issam, who does not speak English, is idle. Walking through the streets of the small town, he opens the door of a chocolate shop and meets the owner, Kelly (Alika Autran), to whom he clumsily tries to give some sweets. It is because the Hadhads were famous chocolate makers in Damascus before the war destroyed their company. The patriarch, therefore, returns to the kitchen and gives Frank (Mark Camacho), the resident who sponsored the family, a taste of his chocolates.

The sweets are excellent and Frank sees them as a way for the family to earn a living. The community mobilizes, offers the family a place to set up a small factory, and lends them money to start the business. Peace by Chocolate quickly acquires an international reputation (and is today a flourishing company).

In order to avoid pontificating, Peace by Chocolate, is oriented from the beginning toward comedy; it illustrates in a humorous way many of the difficulties newcomers have to adapt to, such as winter, employment, language, etc. And with its central themes of mutual aid, solidarity, and family, the film unquestionably ticks all the right boxes, thus providing charming entertainment.

The hostility of the Canadian winter
The beginning of the film suggests the opposite of what its title announces — it is neither peaceful nor sweet, but hostile and bitter. The film opens with a close-up of Tareq’s face surrounded by a thick toque and shivering with cold, while an icy wind blows in the background. The uninviting Canadian winter brings back traumatic memories of Tareq’s past — the bombing of Damascus, his family fleeing to Lebanon, and having to leave everything behind, like their home, the family factory, and for Tareq in particular, the prospect of becoming a doctor. He may have received a second chance in Canada, but this does not involve continuing his studies, since all the universities to which he has applied have refused him.

The friendliness of Canadians
Peaceful and sweet, by contrast, was the welcome he received from his Canadian sponsors, Frank and his wife, upon his arrival at Halifax airport. Tareq, the adult, sees himself taken in the arms of the smiling wife who puts a scarf and cap on him with the inscription “Canada”.

“Is it that cold?” is the first sentence of the newcomer. However, the weather and frustration at the forced cessation of his studies, will be compensated by the immense kindness of the people in this country. From small people like Frank greeting him with kindness, to the head of the government, holding a speech in favor of welcoming Syrian refugees. The first scene Tareq sees when he turns on the TV in his new home, is Trudeau’s advocacy for his family’s plight.

The optimistic attitude is also seen in Skype conversations between the eldest and his family, still in Lebanon. Instead of lamenting the dismal situation in their homeland, the family behaves like curious tourists full of clichés about Canada, asking him lots of questions about the Canadian winter and Canadians’ favorite ingredient: maple syrup.

Personal happiness versus family  happiness
The humor from the very beginning of the film continues with the arrival of the rest of the Hadhad family. However, the arrival highlights the personal conflict of Tareq, who sees himself torn between his own dream of becoming a doctor — he is offered a place of study, but at the other end of the continent — and the responsibility to help his parents who, do not speak a word of English.

“Son, without you I’m illiterate”, says Issam in Arabic. Thus, confirming how much he depends on his multilingual son in this new country, especially when it comes to restarting the manufacturing of chocolate, which is the big dream of the father. A man who starts snooping (in a very funny way) in the chocolate factory in Antigonish to reach his goal. And the experience of the patriarch does not go unnoticed. Supported by Frank, enthusiastic about homemade Canadian-Syrian chocolate, Issam can sell his sweets to the local church — and the success is enormous. As he himself sees it, “you’d think Canadians just discovered chocolate for the first time”.

Thanks to community crowdfunding, a small cabin equipped with basic professional equipment is built in the family’s garden and orders are increasing. Tareq, who is responsible for customer communication, among other things, and who in speeches across Canada talks about his family’s inspiring experience, that of the “new Canadian dream”, must soon decide whether to fulfill his dream or continue to support the family business. 

Show a positive story — and model refugees
Jonathan Keijser, director of Peace by Chocolate, heard the Hadhad family’s success story on the news in Nova Scotia, where he himself grew up. Fascinated, and convinced that the world needs a positive and inspiring story about immigrants, the filmmaker got the idea of making a fictional film and contacted the Hadhad family, who were immediately on board. Indeed, Keijser’s film was not the first adaptation of their story, the film having been preceded by the eponymous book by journalist Jon Tattrie.

In an effort to ensure as much authenticity as possible, Keijser sought out actors who speak Arabic with the correct Syrian accent so that an informed audience would recognize the family members as being from their region.

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