Directed by Jonathan Keijser | Written by Keijser and Abdul Malik | 92 min | ▲▲▲△△ | Crave
A version of this review first appeared in coverage of the 2021 FIN: Atlantic International Film Festival.
I confess it crossed my mind that this might be a documentary. It is, in fact, a feature film by Haligonian first-time feature filmmaker Keijser, who previously made a short about members of the famed Hadhad family, the Canadian newcomers who arrived from Syria in 2015 and settled in rural Nova Scotia.
They’ve since created a hugely successful chocolate business and have become the standard-bearers for newcomers’ success and integration.
What Keijser and his collaborators get especially right are the Hadhad family dynamics — the stresses of culture shock and expectations within the family unit are vividly drawn.
The central relationship between Tareq (Ayham Abou Ammar) and his father, Issam (the late Hatem Ali, terrific in this part) drives the drama — in a tale of fathers and sons, of generational duty and expectation. The filmmaking isn’t fancy, but we get solid performances and a surprising amount of humour all around.
With this kind of feel-good storytelling, some of the supporting cast don’t entirely escape friendly Canuck caricature, and this is also one of those Nova Scotia stories — like Maudie and Goon — clearly shot elsewhere, which might sting just a little for those who can’t help but feel a little pride in this story.
And while I don’t mean to be a pedant, it would’ve been great if all the actors — especially the ones who are supposed to be born and bred here — were instructed on the proper pronunciation of Antigonish.