Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 24 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 2; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
You shall also love the stranger,
for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them…
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
Isaiah 11:6, 9.
British-Austrian director John Goldschmidt’s whimsical tale of interfaith friendship could be a tonic for Americans fed up with political rhetoric demonizing Muslims. Stoners also will be drawn by the funny sequence in which cannabis is accidentally mixed in with the dough at a Jewish bakery, leading to the sudden popularity of the kosher bakery among new customers who wouldn’t know a challah from a Twinkie.
The elderly Nat Dayan (Jonathan Pryce) runs the kosher bakery, the clientele dwindling because the younger Jews are moving from East London to more fashionable districts of the city. He is disappointed that his sons will not take over the business, as he did from his father, but they have become successful lawyers and have no interest in continuing the family tradition. This is partly why the widowed proprietor has insisted on staying on with his establishment, rather than giving in to his sons’ advice to retire.
He is upset when the apprentice he has been training for some time quits, going to work for the large supermarket next door that intends to offer kosher goods. None of the applicants for the job turn out to be suitable, so in desperation he accepts the son of Safa Habimana (Natasha Gordon ), the Muslim woman who cleans his shop—but on a trial basis.
Ayyash (Jerome Holder) and his mother are immigrants from Darfur. The mother is worried about her unemployed son because of his hanging out with some friends with connections to the local drug seller. In fact, it will be this connection that leads to the funny episode, as well as threatening the young man’s future. Ayyash proves to be a reliable, though sometimes clumsy, employee. However, when he spreads his prayer rug in the back of the shop so he can offer a prayer to Allah, the distressed Nat orders him to stop because he is worried what his Jewish customers will think should they see the boy. (Nat has just put on his own prayer accouterments– tallit and tefillin –so we know that both are practicing adherents of their faiths.)
The film’s somewhat unlikely funny sequence begins when some cannabis that Ayyash has been entrusted to sell by the drug dealer accidentally falls into the mixer of the challah dough, and the buyers of the loaves soon return for more. The once almost deserted shop now has almost a block-long line of people waiting to buy the goodies, including the new line of “enhanced” brownies that the boy has persuaded his boss to make. As they work together in the shop, the old man showing Ayyash how to braid challahs, a deep bond begins to form between him and the young Muslim. Also adding interest to the story are Pauline Collins as Nat’s widowed landlady who would like theirs to be more than a business arrangement, and Melanie Freeman as Nat’s adoring granddaughter Olivia, who also befriends Ayyash.
But will their relationship survive the inevitable discovery of the magical ingredient? And what will Ayyash’s drug supplier Victor (Ian Hart) do when he demands either payment or the drugs back? There is even a second villain, Sam Cotton (Philip Davis), owner of the expanding supermarket next door who wants to buy the whole building and force Nat either to sell out to him or go out of business. What would happen were he to learn about the secret ingredient of those baked goods, even though, once Nat has discovered it, it now is no longer added to the dough?
The dramedy might seem ever so slight in a world in which Jews and Muslims murderously assault each other in the Middle East almost every day, and yet it is good to see such a film of hope as this one. It might not display the poetic beauty of Isaiah’s vision of shalom, but it is close enough to it to warm the hearts of those longing for harmony and respect among all peoples.
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the September issue of VP.
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