The Blue Caftan review – carefully moving but low-energy Moroccan drama
Maryam Touzani's film is a slow, methodical thing, at its best when highlighting the specifics of an unorthodox relationship
The Blue Caftan’s lead character, expert tailor Halim (Saleh Bakri), is a gay man in Morocco, keeping his sexuality as secret as he can in a country where homosexuality is still illegal. Though this sounds like the starting point for a story that could only take a sad or scary path, Maryam Touzani’s film is, thankfully, a gentler proposition than that, and though it does, at points, become low energy to a fault, its grounded and humanist lack of grand drama is welcome, at least initially.
The emotional crux of The Blue Caftan, then, is in Halim’s relationship with his wife Mina (Lubna Azabal). Mina is aware of Halim’s sexuality, and you can see that it sometimes pains her, just a little, but this is not a sham marriage. In another country they may not have chosen to be a couple, but there is real love between them in the here and now, a love tested not by handsome new shop apprentice Youssef (Ayoub Missioui), but by a terminal illness that is striking Mina down both mentally and physically.
Halim and Youssef are falling for each other, but this often takes a back seat to the driving force of Halim and Mina facing their last days together, with Youssef becoming closer to the couple as a unit as Mina’s worsening health forces him to step up both at the shop and as a carer for his employers. It’s all performed very nicely by the lead trio – you really feel the years of care when Bakri and Azabal smile at one another – as you gradually get immersed into their world. This effort is aided by some nice camerawork, particularly in Touzani’s closeups of her characters’ hands, reaching out to offer comfort or simply working on the fabrics – Halim is a true artisan in a way that is inherently soothing to watch.
This does all happen very slowly, though – The Blue Caftan runs at just over two hours and you really do feel that time in spots where the film as a whole borders on the boring. There is a fun running gag of all of the shop’s customers being just awful, entitled dolts, but Touzani’s commitment to minimal dramatics can prove a challenge. Luckily, it all comes together at the end for a genuinely moving finale that, in many other films, might feel understated but here, coming at the tail of not much incident, feels as monumental to us as it does to the characters.
Though it might test your patience, The Blue Caftan does have its rewards, from the beautiful titular fabric on which Halim is constantly working to its exploration of an unorthodox but deeply caring three-way relationship that is unlike pretty much any other you get in films. Just like its lead character, this is a methodical and unapologetic piece of work, waiting until it is good and ready to show you exactly what it’s been preparing, just about making sure the wait is worth it in the end.
The Blue Caftan is released in UK cinemas on 5 May.Where to watch