The Blue Caftan
Maryam Touzani’s poignant Morrocan gem The Blue Caftan premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival and is on the shortlist for the 95th Academy Awards for Best International Feature Film.
The movie’s opening is mysterious, while foretelling what is to come. Grave, lush cello sound with misted, dreamlike visuals of royal-blue satin fabric conjure a sensual though unsettling aura. A closeup of a man’s (Halim) hands gently draping the material suggests a deep love and respect for his craft and portends deeper emotional meaning, as if his inner turmoil and the course of his life are contained in these subtle gestures: the tender creation of a caftan.
Evocative tight shots lend immediate intimacy, a glimpse into the daily life of a culture and access to the affections and inner conflicts of three people: Mina (Lubna Azabal), her husband, Halim (Saleh Bakri) – a designer and maker of rare handmade caftans – and their apprentice, Youssef (Ayoub Missioui). Within the setting of their shop in the medina of Sale, Morocco it is revealed that Halim is struggling with his homosexuality, though he cares for his wife deeply. The love triangle that develops is portrayed with compassion and delicacy, and the unfolding storyline is woven with benevolent respect – like the making of a caftan.
A strong use of chiaroscuro lighting invokes a feeling of sacred reverence for the culture and the beauty of daily life and relationships; the effect is painterly, like classic portraiture. Sounds of chanting in the background and Arabic music accent the ambience of Moroccan life, while strict prayers and rigid rituals highlight the hardship faced by homosexuals. Halim has tried to remain closeted but finds a furtive outlet at the hammam. When apologising to Mina, who knows he is gay, she responds, “You are the most pure, decent man I know.” Despite living with religious oppression and social rigidity, the characters find ways to rebel, and it is their rebellion and their love that uplift them.
Acting by Azabal, Bakri and Missioui is remarkable and Maryam Touzani’s direction is brilliant. Amid an impressively realistic portrayal of daily life, the subtle revelations of emotional undercurrents are exquisite. Excellent cinematography and sound paint an expressive tableau. A heartwarming, unique, exceptional work, The Blue Caftan is among the best in international film.
The Blue Caftan is released in select cinemas on 5th May 2023.
Watch the trailer for The Blue Caftan here: