The Blue Caftan
Reviewed for Film Factual by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Maryam Touzani
Writer: Maryam Touzani and Nabil Ayouch
Cast: Lubna Azabal, Saleh Bakri, Ayoub Missioui
Screened at: FYC screener, LA, 12/31/22
Opens: February 10th, 2023
Running a family business can provide many excellent opportunities for people who share lineage to spend a great deal of time together and form close bonds. But it can also mean too much interaction, and disputes during the workday may come home with them at night or to work from home following a difficult morning. There is also the possibility of relationships that seem threatening being formed with other people, and working in close proximity to such budding dynamics can be especially troubling, even if it’s what’s most needed.
Mina (Lubna Azabal) and Halim (Saleh Bakri) run a store in Morocco, hemming and restoring caftans by hand. As they struggle to match the demand being placed on them, they hire Youssef (Ayoub Missioui), who seems eager to learn. While Halim is initially skeptical of his apprentice, he quickly develops a warm affinity for him that goes far beyond simply taking a liking to a coworker. Though she is dealing with her own worsening health problems, Mina is still able to see the closeness that her husband has found with someone else.
Morocco’s shortlisted Oscar submission for Best International Feature is a sweet and quiet tale of three people who all say little but communicate so much in other ways. There is a tenderness to the way that Mina and Halim interact with their customers, touching the fabric delicately and assessing the work and care that will need to be put in to make it the best and more elegant it can be. In an age where technology continues to replace manual labor, such shortcuts are of no interest to Halim, who takes great pride in the work he does and sees an inherent value in the craftsmanship that only a living person working by hand can effect.
The Blue Caftan boasts an excellent cast led by two performers who have been handing in stellar turns in international films for years. Belgian actress Azabal headlined Denis Villeneuve’s Oscar-nominated Incendies and brings a vulnerability to Mina, who opens up when around her husband and not talking to customers as she begins to accept what is happening to her body. Bakri, whose confident band member in The Band’s Visit is among his many memorable contributions to film, hones in on Halim’s commitment to his work, which is rivaled only by his commitment to his wife, even if he has romantic temptations elsewhere. And in his film debut, Missioui impresses with a wondrous blend of curiosity and admiration towards both his mentor and the skills he is learning.
There is a simplicity to this story that makes it accessible and even inviting. Mina and Halim go to the market to shop together and do seem like true partners, and they are well-known within their community, which frequently hosts its own tributes to the recently departed. They seem aware that eventually, and in Mina’s case, likely sooner than later, they will be the focus of such ceremonies, and, like Halim’s approach to his garments, they understand the role they have to play while they are still on this earth.
It’s particularly endearing to see the way that Mina and Halim care for each other, having spent so much time side-by-side fulfilling the respective roles they play at the store. They see each other as equals in a society that still puts men far ahead of women, and that mutual respect plays itself out in the way that they speak to Youssef as they get to know him. There is much to be gleaned about how to carry on a loving relationship, even one with its own complexities, from watching this couple in this softly effective film.
Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+