Maryam Touzani’s The Blue Caftan, like many movies of a similar ilk, has nothing but the best of intentions — though, that’s about all it really has going for it, save for a few solid lead performances. Saleh Bakri and Lubna Azabal are Halim and Mina, an elderly Moroccan couple who manage a local caftan store in Salé. The two hire a fresh-faced apprentice, Youssef (Ayoub Missioui), to assist them with the shop’s day-to-day activities; you see, the couple has fallen behind on their massive backlog of orders, as they employ traditional hand-sewing techniques as opposed to relying on a machine. Considering how many people demand that they speed up their arduous processes, these must be the most sought-after caftans in all of Morocco — that, or there just simply needs to be some/any contrived reason for why Youssef enters into the picture. Either way, Halim, a closeted homosexual, begins to take a strong liking to the young man beyond a student-teacher relationship; Mina, respectful yet understandably a little shaken, is forced to come to terms with her husband’s true identity. But by how much can one really say anyone comes to anything resembling a hard truth here? The film moves so languidly that any potentially devastating emotional blows have been softened: The first time Halim and Youssef even begin to verbally profess their love for one another, we’re already halfway through the coy film. One could call it being deliberate with your pacing, but since not much has really occurred beforehand — other than what took about two sentences to sum up — it’s more Touzani stalling the drama before it actually has time to begin complicating itself.
This studied approach works well whenever Bakri and Azabal share a tender moment together (both actors provide a lot of emotional grace to some rather one-dimensional characters) but flatlines whenever it supposedly begins to enter into a taboo subject matter. Thematic underpinnings of class, gender, and modernity creep up every once and a while, but are buried so deep into the text that they become an afterthought; this is the type of thinly-conceived film where everything that happens is divorced from a larger outside world (the only thing Halim and Mina ever seem to talk about it what’s happened a few scenes previous), where every dramatic element’s employment is to only further the narrative inch-by-inch until we crawl right up to the ending. Which, you’d have to be a stone not to get a little teary-eyed over, at least in its abstract — but it also completely simplifies what should be a complex relationship dynamic. For as much as the film’s premise suggests that a litany of tough questions will arise, with a series of even tougher answers to follow, Touzani is never interested in asking anything that could possibly upset her audience. All the thorny particulars of this The Blue Caftan have been trimmed away, resulting in a bland “crowd-pleaser” that spins its wheels for far too long.
Published as part of TIFF 2022 — Dispatch 6.