Updated: Sep 25, 2021
Here’s transparency: Peace by Chocolate Director Jonathan Keijser asked me to watch his movie and seemed pleased when I said “Yes.” “You had me at ‘chocolate,’” I later explained in a movie-reverential tone. But I should have said, “You had me at Peace,” because the title pun refers to harmony rather than bits of candy, and Keijser’s movie promotes the idea that humans can find ways to live together amicably, despite differences that cross continents.
That title Peace by Chocolate refers to an actual company that Keijser knew about since the product sells throughout his homeland in Canada. More than the sweetness of candy, Keijser felt drawn to a real-life story reflecting the agreeable sensation of people overcoming odds to find success in a difficult world. Co-writing a screenplay with Abdul Malik, Keijser tells the real-life story of the Hadhad family, forced to flee Syria, and resettle in Nova Scotia. Weather extremes provide obvious challenges, but conflicts run deeper as issues develop with family tradition and job opportunities in a cold, isolated region.
Keijser sets his images well, opening with a shot of the younger Hadhad’s fur lined face looking lost in blustering snow. Handsome Ayham Abou Ammar suits his role well, but the cast’s highlight comes with Hatem Ali as the family patriarch. Ali, a well-respected director in his own right, nails his role as a man who needs to prove himself again despite the status he once held. Facing local competition and prejudice against immigrants, Hadhad jumps in the fray with plans to succeed.
The story’s uplifting nature requires little in the way of subtlety, instead facing issues of unfamiliarity since it lacks instantly recognizable faces. For the English-speaking market, subtitles step in to translate Arabic dialogue. Peace by Chocolate achieves its broader appeal with a portrait of people moving forward despite game changing disruptions in their lives. Like I told the director: “You had me at chocolate.” Or peace.
Peace by Chocolate premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and currently runs a circuit of festival screening with specific dates posted online at Screenings | Peace by Chocolate Film. Many festivals allow online participants for those unable to attend in person.