There’s something downright lustful about the opening scenes of “The Blue Caftan,” which show rustling silks being caressed in close-up by gentle hands. It’s clear right away that this Moroccan drama from Maryam Touzani, about a middle-aged couple who sell hand-sewn caftans, has something to say about desire. But who is the object of whose desire remains tantalizingly mysterious for much of the film, cloaked by the characters’ (and the camera’s) nearly erotic affection for a dying craft.
The film begins as a love letter to the traditional tailoring that Halim (Saleh Bakri) learned from his father — creations that Mina (Lubna Azabal) hawks at the front of their shop, knowing just when to flatter and when to reprimand a customer. Their store feels like a crumbling oasis in a sea of change: Machine-made clothes pose increasing competition to Halim’s patient artistry, while Mina’s health worsens, making her frail. They’ve hired an apprentice, Youssef (Ayoub Missioui), to help, but his presence only exposes the delicate foundations of their relationship. When Youssef undresses, Halim gazes at him longingly, and Mina winces.
“The Blue Caftan” sets up what seems like a love triangle primed to boil over, but the movie remains at a simmer throughout, eschewing confrontations for gentler, more complicated forms of connection. Mina can be stern and jealous, but she is empathetic to the closeted Halim, telling him in a crucial moment that he’s the “purest man” she knows. Halim, for his part, cannot reciprocate her desire but showers her with care. As her illness changes the couple’s companionship and their craft — and draws Youssef into both — Touzani’s film becomes an ode to the many kinds of love that persist, even in an unforgiving world.
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