wed 22/05/2024

The Blue Caftan review - unstitching repression in Morocco | reviews, news & interviews

The Blue Caftan review - unstitching repression in Morocco

The Blue Caftan review - unstitching repression in Morocco

A closeted tailor and his wife confront new realities in this exquisite drama

Changing the fabric: Saleh Bakri, Lubna Azabal and Ayoub Missioui in 'The Blue Caftan'New Wave Films

The eponymous garment in The Blue Caftan is a thing of beauty meticulously stitched and embroidered by Halim (Saleh Bakri), a maalem or master tailor, in one of Morocco’s oldest medinas. His craftmanship, with its focus on intricate details and on colour, is reflected in writer-director Maryam Touzani’s filmmaking, which is equally time-weighted and precise.

Like Daniel Day-Lewis’s dressmaker in Phantom Thread, Halim is an obsessive artist whose refusal to use a sewing machine infuriates customers at the shop he runs with his wife Mina (Lubna Azabal). The business is in trouble – and so is the marriage, owing to Halim’s closeted homosexuality.

Beauty is the couple’s stock-in-trade, and the film looks sumptuous, many different coloured rolls of satin giving it a metaphorical texture that evokes WB Yeats’s blue cloths of heaven “enwrought with golden and silver light”. Unfortunately, as in the poem, Halim’s dreams – in his case, of artisanal perfection – are being downtrodden.

He learned the maalem’s craft from his father but never had children with Mina so has nobody to whom he can pass on the tradition. In any case, bespoke tailoring is now a dying art. “No one can tell the difference between hand-made and machine-made any more,” a customer tells Mina, impatient at having to wait for Halim’s latest masterpiece. “It’s all over,” Mina tells her husband, and you feel she could almost be talking about the marriage as well as about the business.The Blue CaftanWhen Mina becomes unwell and Halim hires a young apprentice, Youssef (Ayoub Missioui), it seems as though an extra pair of hands might solve the problem. Yet the storyline develops unexpectedly with the presence of this handsome young man distracting Halim from his work at close quarters and sparking Mina’s jealousy. (Pictured above: Missioui, Azabal and Bakri)

The Palestinian actor Bakri’s performance is wonderfully subtle. He somehow manages to convey with just a glance the intense, often repressed feelings of a gay man in Morocco where homosexuality is still illegal. In one scene at a local bathhouse, where he often goes for clandestine sex, all we see are the men’s feet beneath a cubicle door and yet the moment of joy is entirely captured. State repression is glimpsed in another scene, where Halim and Mina are stopped by a policeman on their way home from a café one night.

This is Touzani’s second film, following 2019’s Adam, and here, once again, she delves into her characters’ emotions in a way that is more understated, and therefore more complex, than anything the viewer might expect.

Azabal is a radiant presence throughout the film, somehow able to light up even the most heartbreaking scenes with an impish smile or, in the act of lovemaking, to disclose the sadness at the core of her marriage.

No less eloquent is the cinematography of Virginie Surdej, who works wonders with silent shots that often say a lot more than dialogue ever could. Her camerawork picks out the beauty in details and in the light that seeps into close-ups of fabrics and faces. The Blue Caftan is itself a thing of beauty, a deeply satisfying homage to craftsmanship and love.

Beauty is the couple’s stock-in-trade, and the film looks sumptuous

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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