The Movie Waffler New Release Review - THE BLUE CAFTAN | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - THE BLUE CAFTAN

The Blue Caftan review
A  Moroccan couple's relationship is disturbed by the arrival of a young man.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Maryam Touzani

Starring: Lubna Azabal, Saleh Bakri, Ayoub Massioui

The Blue Caftan poster

Tricky thing to capture texture and tactile sensation on film, I reckon. Notwithstanding gimmicks like John Waters' (now there's a well-dressed man) Odorama, sight and sound are the primary lexicons of cinema. Unless an exhibitor organises a buffet and a correspondingly byzantine method of synchronising ingestion, taste is out of the picture(s) too, which leaves touch. Within the realm of the cinematic senses, touch is perhaps the facility most tantalisingly implied: we see the softness of satin, the heat of flame, the depth of water, but we don't feel them. Is the key to pornography's addictive dissatisfactions the suggestion of physicality located within the inexorable impossibility of consummation? The promise of fleshly delights never fully delivered...

The Blue Caftan review

True to theme, Maryam Touzani's The Blue Caftan opens with a close up montage of softly peaked lapis. We could be looking at an alien landscape, a territory of deep blue exoticism, a rolling panorama of luxury. However, transitions to golden thread, a yellow ribbon of measuring tape, the concerned eye of a tailor, communicate that the screen-filling cobalt is the silk which will eventually form the eponymous title garment. We long to touch it.

The Blue Caftan is a film predicated upon carefully constructed presentations, and the importance of how we appear to others. Halim (Saleh Bakri) is a tailor in Rabat, who works the shop with his wife Mina (Lubna Azabal). Age has come for both, along with other unwelcome eventualities, and so Halim has taken on a keen and talented apprentice Youssef (Ayoub Missioui) to share the load. Only snag is that Halim is a partially closeted homosexual, while Youssef is an obscenely beautiful man. It's hard not to stare, and Mina certainly notices Halim's eyes wandering to this pulchritudinous young buck who, not meaning to stereotype, being a man so enthused by the concept of clothes and female fashion, is most likely in the gays, too. Cue lingering glances, barely suppressed need, and a febrile atmosphere where urgent undercurrents (desire, jealousy, terror) are played out in discreetly masked modes of repression.

The Blue Caftan review

The situation is heightened by the draconian policy of Morocco to its LGBTQ+ community, where being gay is illegal and can be punished with "anything from three to five years' imprisonment and a fine of 1,200 dirhams." In 2016 a couple of girls were photographed having a little kiss and were actually imprisoned for it. Worse still, they were grassed up by one of the kids' own mothers. It's not normal there. Nonetheless, Halim finds solace in the back street saunas of the city, and furtive encounters in bathrooms. He confides to Mina of his father's disapproval of him, and Touzani makes clear the cultural implications which have led to him marrying Mina. While for the sauna lads it's sly consensual fun, you get the impression that Halim wouldn't have chosen this sort of life: he's a quiet man of delicate tastes. Such as the electric, and increasingly frequent, touch of Youseff, which is like a needle and thread through his heart.

The ultimate complication, however, is Halim's love for Mina. Although not a sexual love, the affection he has for her, the companionship, is deep and abiding. Love, as ever, is mercurial and no one thing. We learn early on that Mina is very ill, and subsequently as Halim tends to his wife Youseff becomes a hope for the future, along with cause of shame: a source of guilt for Halim even entertaining the thought of a life past Mina. It's complicated, as every human relationship beyond blood relation should be. Best to channel heartbreak into the intricate embroidery of frills upon a dress and the Sisyphean task of completing the caftan, which acts as a gentle metaphor for Halim's dignity and necessary deception.

The Blue Caftan review

For someone obsessed with clothes, and appearances, and what other people are wearing, The Blue Caftan is a delight: the exquisite close ups of brocade, the long takes of needlepoint and the accepted sense that clothes matter and matter deeply, either as an extension of character or necessary disguise, meant that this unapologetic fashionista was a captive audience. Moreover, though, such visual pleasures are woven into the rich dramatic fabric of a film which wears its heart-breaking implications lightly, and to devastating effect. Touzani deftly avoids melodrama and refuses to sensationalise the shifty sexuality of Halim's other life. Instead, à la mode, The Blue Caftan balances the devastating effects of prejudice against the redemptive succour of love.

The Blue Caftan is in UK/ROI cinemas and on BFI Player and Curzon Home Cinema from May 5th.

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