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THE BLUE CAFTAN (2022, MAR) – 8/10

Moroccan Maryam Touzani presented a gentle, emotional and complex drama in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes festival. This filmmaker, born in Tangier, entered the world of film as a journalist before switching to documentaries, and her feature debut “Adam” from 2019 also had its premiere in Cannes and was a Moroccan candidate for the Oscar. And in her debut, the leading role was played by the great Belgian actress of Moroccan origin, Lubna Azabal, who is still best remembered for Dennis Villeneuve’s “Incendies”, and in “The Blue Caftan” she was joined by an equally great actor, the Palestinian Saleh Bakri.

The otherwise striking Bakri is here hidden behind a typical Arab mustache and he is terrific as the middle-aged Halim, a traditional tailor who specializes in handmade kaftans for women. A kaftan is a traditional Arab robe or tunic, and almost like Daniel Day-Lewis’ character in “Phantom Thread,” Halim is a perfectionist who refuses to use a sewing machine and does everything by hand. Because of this, the making of kaftans at his place takes quite a long time, which often annoys mostly rich customers, and his wife Mina (Azabal) works at the tailor’s cashier. Halim and Mina have been married for a quarter of a century and have no children, and very soon we will realize that the silent, mustachioed Schneider is actually a closeted homosexual.

This should be understood relatively conditionally because Mina also knows about her husband’s tendencies, but outwardly their marriage appears to be harmonious. We learn that Halim occasionally visits public baths to meet similar undercover homies, and he certainly has a reason to hide, since homosexuality is still prohibited and punishable in Morocco. The dynamics of their relationship will change when Mina falls ill and Halim hires a young apprentice, Youssef (Ayoub Missioui), but the story will develop in a rather unexpected direction. One should not expect from “The Blue Caftan” a film in the footsteps of, say, the Austrian Oscar candidate “Great Freedom” of the same year, about the persecution of homosexuals by a repressive apparatus in some historical period.

It is a subtle and slow, gentle drama about love between two people, although it is obvious that it will never be the kind of love that Mina may have wished for in the beginning. When Mina becomes seriously ill, we will also understand that Halim wanted to love her all his life in the same way that she loved him and tried to be a worthy husband to her, and he will push his role and his loyalty to her to the end. It is also a sad life story, from which Touzani made a tender, touching and emotional drama, and great credit for this success goes especially to the couple of main actors. And while Lubna Azabal is more or less well known by all those who follow European and even world art films, Bakri is equally brilliant here.

This blue-eyed Palestinian already has a whole series of quality roles in various Arab cinematography, but the role of the quiet, taciturn tailor Halim, who so stoically goes through everything, is probably his best in which I have seen him. He is aware that he is in a dying business and that practically all his colleagues have long since been replaced by machines, but he still feels an incredible dedication to his work and does not want to let his craft die out. Throughout his life, he clearly struggled with his tendencies, but all that time he was also loyal to his wife, and when he begins to understand that her days are numbered, Mina will be the one who seems to let him go and encourage him to finally be what he wants to be. it is. We will also understand that Mina is aware that she could not have had a better and more devoted husband than Halim, and the fact that he will die soon, she also sees as an opportunity for him to start living the way he wants.