Halim (Saleh Bakri) is going through a stressful period in his life. Living in the medina of the northwestern Moroccan city of Salé, he is a maalem, a master tailor who does all his work by hand, without using a sewing machine. The work he produces is exquisite. But it is also time-consuming and, in a society with increasingly low standards, fewer and fewer customers have the patience to wait for Halim’s caftans to be ready. His wife, Mina (Lubna Azabal), feels that Halim’s craft is a dying art, which is why he has so much trouble keeping apprentices.
Halim has a second problem. Although he loves his wife, he has spent his adult life hiding the fact that he is sexually attracted to men. In Morocco, homosexual behavior is illegal, punishable by three to five years in prison.
And Halim has a third, even more stressful problem. His beloved wife is dying from breast cancer that has spread.
Halim brings on a new apprentice, Youssef (Ayoub Missioui), who is different. For one thing, he appears to be serious about learning the trade. Also, he is attracted to Halim. It isn’t long before this attraction is reciprocated.
The Blue Caftan Le bleu du caftan) is wonderfully made on every level.
Director Maryam Touzani, who wrote the script with her husband, Nabil Ayouch (Horses of God), presents difficult subjects with delicacy. Even a scene about harassment by local law enforcement is done carefully, as Mina and Halim disagree about how to respond. The relationship of Mina and Halim is laced with moments of joy and even humor, particularly when they mock their most annoying and entitled customers.
Saleh Bakri portrays Halim with dignity, even as he confronts one setback after another. Lubna Azabal, who starred in Maryam Touzani’s debut feature, Adam, as well as Incendies and Tel Aviv on Fire, is brilliant, as usual.
This is a radical film, not only because of its positive portrayal of a homosexual relationship and its negative portrayal of law enforcement authorities, but also for another tradition-breaking scene that comes at the end.
Oh yes, if you like the beauty of well-made clothing and the wonder of careful, high-end handicraft, The Blue Caftan is definitely for you.