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'The Blue Caftan' Review: Romantic Drama Explores Unconventional Love In Morocco | HIFF 2022

Ayoub Missioui, Lubna Azabal and Saleh Bakri eating at a dining room table
Strand Releasing

Unconditional love and sincere appreciation of it are some of the things explored in director and co-writer Maryam Touzani's new romantic drama, Moroccan-French co-production The Blue Caftan (Le bleu du caftan in French, Arabic title unknown currently). Taking place in the old town in the city of Salé, Morocco, our main characters are Halim (Saleh Bakri) and Mina (Lubna Azabal), who as a couple run a traditional tailor shop specialised in caftans, Halim doing the precise embroidery while Mina deals with customers and vendors. Since Halim's work is so precise, they're running behind on orders, needing the assistance of apprentice Youssef (Ayoub Missioui). As Youssef increasingly catches the eye of Halim, it is revealed that his marriage with Mina might not be as traditional as their craft.

Right from the first few scenes, Touzani and co-writer Nabil Ayouch find a very sweet, romantic tone in their text which the former then can turn into something emotionally resonant with her cast and crew. The Blue Caftan is very much about loving and seeing someone as themselves and only as themselves, checking in with that rare connection in different ways even when you don't feel comfortable breaking out of the traditions of your home. Those moments are subtle but effective, whether that's Halim leaving the prayers to Mina—perhaps showing that he also feels like an outcast in religion—or him turning away when Mina is changing clothes. Just as the characters' craft is known for its personal touch, their relationship is also reliant on small touches and gazes that display how much they care for each other.

That kind of connection also wouldn't come off as truthful in a cinematic landscape if the actors weren't on top of their game. While occasionally Touzani composes scenes that are too melodramatic considering the tone, often sacrificing Missioui and his character slightly, Bakri and Azabal still sell the material. Bakri's eloquent sensibility and Azabal's courageous spirit combine in a way that you immediately believe that their characters have had their ups and downs already.

Helping you to feel that reality is also Rafika Ben Maimoun's costume design which is character-focused with Halim's straight attire, gorgeous with the caftans and intentional when Mina finally asks Halim to turn around and look at her in the last act when clothes don't hide the scars. Titular blue caftan then plays a major part alongside the performances and composer Kristian Selin Eidnes Andersen's stunning cue in the film's last few minutes as you're witnessing the impact that reciprocated, unconditional love has had on these people.

Smileys: Saleh Bakri, Lubna Azabal, costume design, screenplay

Frowneys: Minor issues with directing

Hopefully those annoying kids are now eternally banned from entering the store.


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