Premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, Peace by Chocolate is a moving representation of one family’s real-life struggle to rebuild after their lives are uprooted and turned upside down. The film’s direction, the cast, and the story come together to paint a magnificent picture.
Peace by Chocolate follows Tareq Hadhad and his family as they escape the civil war in Syria and become refugees in Canada. As they adjust to their very new life, Tareq’s father, Isameddin, begins to rebuild his chocolate business. Tareq is left torn between helping the family business grow and pursuing his dreams of becoming a doctor.
One of Peace by Chocolate’s biggest triumphs is the way the story is told. The Hadhad family’s struggles were many, but the primary focus is the reincarnation of the family’s chocolate business. It would have been easy to focus on the racial, societal, and economical pressures felt (and these themes are all touched upon). Choosing to focus on the family’s interpersonal struggles and the struggle to keep their dream alive by molding it into a new dream makes the story much more compelling and allows audiences a much stronger connection with the Hadhads. This central focus also allows for some wonderful moments of levity between the family members that offer a warm reminder that no matter where we come from, we all laugh, love, and hurt.
The cast in Peace by Chocolate is incredible. I can’t say enough positive things about them. Ayham Abou Ammar shines as Tareq and serves as a wonderful anchor. Ammar captures the complexity of Tareq’s situation and tells his story with grace and integrity. Hatem Ali is an absolute delight as the Hadhad patriarch Isameddin. He is stubborn, strong, kind, and full of determination. Ali passed late last year so this was his last film, and I believe this film could be his Magnum Opus. Mark Camacho should also be recognized for his performance as the Hadhad family’s Canadian sponsor Frank. The chemistry that he and Ali share on screen is nothing short of heartwarming and he brings such lovely humanness to the film.
Perhaps what is most touching is the footage and photos of the real Issam and Tareq Hadhad. Audiences get to see photos of the actual shed Peace by Chocolate was started in, of Tareq at various speaking engagements, and of ‘brothers’ Isameddin and Frank bonding together. This footage did two things. It reminded the audience that this is a story of a real family that experienced horrific atrocities many will never even be able to dream of. It also showcases one of cinema’s greatest assets: the ability to tell the stories of those that society has underappreciated, marginalized, or has all but forgotten.
Peace by Chocolate is not a film to be missed. It is a touching true story about the power of family and shows that a little kindness makes the world a lot sweeter.
8 out of 10