Tribeca 2021 Review: “Peace by Chocolate” Offers a Beautifully Bittersweet Immigrant’s Story

One shouldn’t take the fact that “Peace By Chocolate” is sweet to expect it to be saccharine, a feel-good story out of Canada that doesn’t overlook the borders that remain in the mind of immigrants even after geographical ones have been cleared. Based on the life story of Tareq Hadhad, memories of Syria are actually put fairly quickly out of mind in Jonathan Keijser’s comedy, with Tareq (Ayham Abou Ammar) given an almost suspiciously hearty hello by a pair of Canucks who will be ensuring a smooth transition into a new life in the small town of Antigonish. Tareq needs no help with his English, but it takes a while to adjust when the rest of his family, including his sister Alaa (Najlaa Al Khamri), mother Shahnaz (Yara Sabri) and father Issam (Hatem Ali) need more time to cross over and he himself needs to get used to the chill of the Great North, not only the snowy winters Halifax endures, but from a medical community that largely gives him the cold shoulder when his degree means little outside of his homeland.

Opportunity arrives when his parents do, as Isaam decides to bide his time using ice cube trays to make chocolates as he once did in Beirut where he previously oversaw an entire factory and when Tareq is the only one around who can speak English and has little else to do with his own time, the family gets back to business with the help of Frank (Mark Camacho), one-half of their host family who also happens to be an account. Everything may seem like it’s fallen right into place, especially when it takes no time at all for word to spread about Issam’s confections after he starts selling them out of a local church, but beyond their popularity threatening to put a kind-hearted local chocolatier (Alika Autran) out of business, it takes its toll on Tareq, who would rather be pursuing medicine and is increasingly entangled in his father’s affairs.

A rare immigration story where neither making it in a new country or leaving behind another is its central thread, “Peace by Chocolate” is refreshing not only in its gentle humor, but Tareq’s dilemma as he rebels against the role his father would like him to have at the company as his likely successor, and by extension serving as the goodwill ambassador that the company requires for the present, when telling his family’s story again and again doesn’t allow him to stand apart from it as an individual. Though its presentation is extremely polished, Jonathan Keijse and co-writer Abdul Malik admirably leave in the rough edges narratively regarding the sacrifices he has to make for the sake of the family, exacerbated by the lack of opportunities to find success outside of the food service industry, and as Tareq and Issam find themselves at loggerheads about what the son’s responsibilities are to the business, you’re made to see how they are most definitely related to one another in their stubbornness, but also how their attitudes about what the future could be are very different as they acclimate to their new surroundings.

The cast, particularly Ali, who sadly passed away shortly after production, are quite endearing and with Antigonish coming to appreciate what their new Syrian neighbors can bring, the Canadians behind “Peace by Chocolate” offer plenty of local flavor of their own, making the film a real delight.

“Peace By Chocolate” does not yet have U.S. distribution. It will be making its Canadian premiere on July 1st at 9 pm at a drive-in screening at Ontario Place in Toronto.