Maryam Touzani’s The Blue Caftan is, above all, a film about loving and understanding. As the film shows how heart-shattering intimacy can be, Touzani makes it clear that, while love is something destructive, sometimes it can also make us bloom.
Halim (Saleh Bakri) and Mina (Lubna Azabal) own a traditional caftan store in Morocco. While he works sewing the caftans, Mina works as the store’s manager. One day, when the couple realizes they need help with the caftans, Youseff (Ayoub Missioui) is hired as some sort of apprentice. Halim and Youseff start knowing each other and enjoying each other’s presence. Halim is a gay man, and while Mina is aware of that, she cannot help but to feel betrayed. It’s not simply jealousy, it’s also about fear. Mina was diagnosed with a terminal illness and doesn’t have much time left. She has conflicted feelings about Halim’s relationship with Youseff, because while she wants him to be happy after she passes, she also doesn’t want them to share the same kind of love she did.
Touzani gives a masterclass in sensibility. Every move, whether it’s from sewing the caftan or caressing each other, is a demonstration of love, care and intimacy. She shows us things we are not sure we are supposed to be seeing, but it’s hard to look away when what we are seeing is love in its most pure and compassionate way. There’s a kind of sentimentalism in her approach to the story, and while it reaches the melodrama, it never comes across as something over-emotional. All the feelings are genuine and that’s what makes Touzani’s direction a powerful exercise on tenderness.
The film wouldn’t work if the actors were not up to the task, but fortunately they were. Bakri handles Halim’s feelings towards Mina and Youseff with a fragile and vulnerable delicacy. He gives so much without saying anything. The saddening glances are enough to tell us how much he is suffering from the inside, whether it’s because his wife is dying or because he is scared of his feelings towards Youseff. But Azabal is the main standout here. She shows the hurt with an unmatchable complexity. She masters the conflicted feelings of her character while underplaying the true emotions of Mina. The moments of happiness never come without a heartbreaking look, and the moments of sadness never come without a hopeful grin. She works with the duality of her feelings in a sublime way.
Life goes on, and part of Mina’s journey is making peace with that. She doesn’t want Halim to grieve for the rest of his life, she wants him to move past it, and while he may not fully understand what comes after that, he embraces her last wish with a burning passion.