It should not come as a surprise that a movie called “Peace by Chocolate” is cloyingly sweet. The based-on-a-true-story of Syrian Civil War refugees settling in small town Nova Scotia is played out in broad strokes, but, despite its wintry Antigonish setting, is a warm-hearted film.
When we first meet Syrian born Tareq Hadhad (Ayham Abou Ammar) his dreams of becoming a doctor are sidelined by the war in his home country. His family’s chocolate factory has been destroyed, and the family is forced to flee. Tareq relocates to Nova Scotia to start anew while a Visa is prepared to bring his parents, father Issam (Hatem Ali) and mother (Yara Sabri) in from Lebanon.
Welcomed by the locals, he settles in, but aspires to move to Toronto to study medicine but when the family chocolate business takes off in Antigonish Tareq is torn between his dreams and family duty. “I didn’t have superheroes growing up in Syria,” he says. “I had doctors. They save lives. They command respect. They don’t make sweets.”
“Peace by Chocolate” tackles some big topics. There is displacement of refugees, racism and aspirations, but despite some tension in the storytelling, it has a tendency to lean into the feel-good aspects of the story. The reliance on the saccharine aspects sucks away some of the gravitas inherent to the tale.
Having said that, “Peace by Chocolate,” despite its very specific characters and setting, is a universal underdog story about following your dreams and overcoming adversity. On that level it works because of the likable performances that draw the audience into the situation. It’s an unabashed feel good movie, one that focusses on the family’s triumphs as much as their tribulations.
“Peace by Chocolate”may not be as complex as the delicious chocolate Issam whips up, but it does have its pleasures.