Written response by Yasmin Jenoui
Maryam Touzani’s second feature The Blue Caftan is a poetic and beautifully crafted film that explores the complexities of love, identity, and the human experience in a way that is both tender and deeply resonant. Set in the city of Salé, Morocco, Halim and his wife Mina struggle for the survival of their small Caftan business. The presence of Yousseff, the new apprentice, complicates matters further as he captures the attention of Halim and exposes the couple's fragility.
When he’s not frequenting the local hamman for sexual encounters with anonymous men, Halim grapples with his repressed sexuality by dedicating himself to the dying art of traditional Moroccan tailoring. Every snip and caress of hand-picked fabric is restrained, precise and intentional. Halim’s trained eye and steady hand knows the quality work of hand-sewn embroidery could never truly be replicated by a machine. He allegorically understands that “if you cut too much, there’s no going back”, and sometimes you can “iron all you want, it just won’t fall right”. For Halim, hand crafting a Caftan is an intimate ritual of control, beauty and tradition. Touzani’s lens stays close, lingering over the rich fabrics and intricate detailing, delicate touches and soft whispers - bringing forth both a timid sensuality and overwhelming passion. Yousseff proves more than just a willing apprentice, his affirming hand and understanding gaze allows Halim an intimacy worlds apart from the dark, hidden corners of the hammam. Ironically, their shared love for the very craft that Halim used to subside his true nature is what sparks their connection, and despite some resistance from Halim, Yousseff becomes his new muse and later his confidant.
Mina’s no-nonsense approach to work, life and marriage - alongside a disregard of her husband's inclinations and disdain for Yousseff’s presence - initially causes tension between the three characters. As her cancer returns and her health rapidly declines, Halim’s attention is dedicated entirely to caring for Mina, leaving no room for Yousseff or their growing desire for one another. The couple’s combined physical and emotional pain is repressive and all-consuming; their business is neglected, their fruit begins to rot. But then, in the face of her own mortality, something in Mina changes.
Although Halim’s inner-conflict is what sparks the narrative, it’s Mina’s character evolution that becomes the film’s heart. Her acceptance of her fate draws her closer to her religion and she embraces a newfound perspective on life. In a vulnerable and heartfelt moment, she tells Halim he is the “purest” and most “noble man” she’s ever known, and more crucially, “don’t be afraid to love”. Despite Mina’s frail state, she exhibits a profound inner strength by transcending conservative cultural ideals of love and life. In helping Halim confront his truth, she proves she’ll always remain his “rock”.
Mina asks Yousseff for his forgiveness, and he is drawn back into the couple's lives as the three of them dance and dine through the grief of impermanence and wasted time.
Touzani’s emotionally climactic ending sequence is an ode to immortal devotion, and one last delicately defiant declaration to the many dimensions of love.