Directed and written by Maryam Touzani, Arabic-language drama film The Blue Caftan (Le Bleu du Caftan in French) tells the story of a married couple, Mina and Halim, who run a caftan store in the city of Salè, one of Morocco’s oldest Medinas (“Old towns”).
In order to keep up with demands and ensure that the caftan store can continue to run effortlessly, the married couple decide to hire a young apprentice, Youssef. However, this begins to cause a problem with Halim, as the film’s story is centred around the fact that Halim is a closeted gay man. With the introduction of Youssef, Halim begins to take a low profile more-than-friendly interest in the young man whilst also dealing with Mina’s slowly deteriorating health in the background. Unbeknownst to Halim, Mina suspects this about her husband, and thus our story begins.
Truthfully, the movie is quite the slow burn and takes its time to get through its story and its many close-up scenes. Some admittedly felt like they went on for a little longer than they should. Unfortunately, by the time the film reached its conclusion and the credits rolled, the payoff did not feel satisfying.
While we see glimpses of Halim making awkward eye contact and starring for far too long at the young and handsome apprentice Youssef, some scenes linger and outstay their welcome long before transitioning to the next one. At times, I actually felt that The Blue Caftan wanted to express more of itself in several scenes between its three main stars, wanting to be more vulnerable and unrestricted with its storytelling, but it only scratched the surface and left me wanting more.
Even though the film may be a little bit of an overall slog to get through and enjoy, I did appreciate that with a story as fragile and touchy as this about a closeted married man, a tale that can potentially resonate with some viewers, regardless of setting and culture, it doesn’t portray anyone as a bad person. It is simply a story of a man withholding his true nature and his true feelings with the challenges he is facing. It’s a sad state to see, but I am grateful that this movie did not portray or romanticize the complications Halim is facing. There’s no ‘villain’ to face or confront, it is simply life and the challenges that may be presented to us to accept and face.
Aside from how I liked the story and the subject matter, I also enjoyed the sound design by sound designer and sound editors; Carlos García, Ezequiel Pinedo, and Miguel Villada. Hearing the sounds of thread, materials, and caftan clothing being utilised and touched in the film is quite exquisite to hear. There is also lovely cinematography by Virginie Surdej of the inside of Halim and Mina’s caftan store, close-ups of the materials themselves, and even the scenes of the accompanying neighbourhood Mina and Halim reside in.
I would also like to give praise to Lubna Azabal’s performance as Mina. The cast all did a great job here, but Azabal’s performance, in my eyes, stood out the most as a woman dealing with her husband who she suspects has more-than-friendly feelings towards their newly hired apprentice. This is combined with grappling with her illness. There is a lot of spunk in her performance, and she really stood out as the breakout star of the film. Even with the more tender moments, such as Mina and Halim working together at the caftan and laughing over mundane little things that somewhat ignite the spark of their romance that they do indeed have, I totally buy into her little jokes and laughter whilst working alongside her husband.
While The Blue Caftan still makes for some decent viewing, it did not do enough to completely win me over as it felt like it held itself back and did not reach its true potential.
The Blue Caftan is in cinemas from May 18.