The Blue Caftan is now playing in selected cinemas.
Set in Morocco, where gay men are still imprisoned and oppressed for showing or sharing their love, many will wrongly assume Maryam Touzani’s, The Blue Caftan, to be a classic gay romantic tragedy when it is an intricate tapestry of love and loss that defies simple labels.
During the 40s and 50s, Morroco was a mecca for wealthy gay tourists as Tangier sat in an international zone with few rules. This led many gay men to seek refuge in Tangier from the persecution they faced in their own countries, including many famous authors and artists, from Allen Ginsberg to Truman Capote. However, the freedoms enjoyed by wealthy Westerners were never fully reflected in the treatment of Morocco’s gay population, and on its independence in 1956, homosexuality was outlawed. Over the years since, there has been widespread discrimination and violence against gay people as Morocco embraced social and religious conservatism. However, hidden beneath this oppression is a fascinating LGBTQ+ history that director Maryam Touzani clearly understands as she gently challenges current social conservatism.
Halim (Saleh Bakri) is a skilled maalem, or master tailor, who rejects the modern world of machine stitching in favour of detail and tradition. Meanwhile, his loving wife, Mina (Lubna Azabal), runs their traditional caftan shop with a detailed understanding of every customer’s individual needs. Together they keep Moroccan tailoring traditions alive while challenging many social conventions through a marriage full of love, care, and mutual respect. However, beneath the surface, Halim secretly has sex with other men in the local bathhouse, something Mina possibly knows but doesn’t discuss or fully accept. Maybe this is because Mina knows Halim is also utterly devoted to her. It is here where Touzani’s film sets itself apart from many other movies exploring repressed homosexual desire. Mina and Halim clearly love each other deeply and unconditionally, even if Halim struggles to offer Mina any meaningful sexual attention. Halim is not screaming for escape; he is happy and content with Mina but equally sexually imprisoned.
When a young maalem apprentice, Youssef (Ayoub Missioui), joins the shop to learn his trade, it is clear that Mina views the beautiful young man as a potential risk. Yet she also welcomes him in, keeping a close eye on her husband as he bonds with Youssef over the creation of a luxurious blue caftan. Touzani’s quiet and stunning drama could have fallen into a series of classic forbidden love tropes and clichés, but it smartly avoids these through its narrative arc.
The Blue Caftan cleverly places Mina’s story above Halim and Youssef’s as she faces her final battle with cancer while accepting her loving husband’s sexuality. At the same time, Halim steps out of the shadows through Youssef’s touch as Mina gives him her blessing to live and love after she is gone. Here the journey we take alongside Mina, Halim and Youssef flows with a rare beauty. Touzani’s film is as smooth as silk and as sharp as the needle that penetrates and shapes it. Here Virginie Surdej’s camera captures the emotions at play through light, darkness and splashes of vibrant colour, often making words unnecessary in a film that is a delicately crafted work of art.
The Blue Caftan | France | Morocco | 2hr 2min | 2022
Touzani’s film is as smooth as silk and as sharp as the needle that penetrates and shapes it. Here Virginie Surdej’s camera captures the emotions at play through light, darkness and splashes of vibrant colour, often making words unnecessary in a film that is a delicately crafted work of art.