Thoughts on The Blue Caftan
I was immediately struck by the opening shot of the film, a tight close up of the titular blue caftan. Soft light reflecting off its surface, its electric colour and its movement; soft, airy and elegant. I felt as though I was going to be taken on a beautiful ride. A ride inwards. This is a film about love, partnership and loss. It follows the two owners of a traditional caftan store in the city of Salé, Morocco. A wife Mina (Lubna Azabal) who handles the business and her tailor husband Halim (Saleh Bakri). We also meet their new apprentice Youssef (Ayoub Missioui) who is a quick learner and isn’t afraid to stand up for himself when necessary.
The partnership between Mina and Halim is one of true love and true friendship. She has an illness that on some days renders her immobile and on other days she appears to be well. As all of this goes on, her husband is always ready and willing to be by her side even though his affections may lie elsewhere. Halim happens to be a closeted gay man. He eventually confides in his wife, letting her know that there is something within him that he has long tried to suppress. Mina, having seemingly noticed this already, embraces him and tells him that she couldn’t wish for a better husband.
This happens towards the end of the film not long after beautiful scenes of the two of them going on dates, gossiping and having fun. Throughout the film there is a tenderness and understanding between them. A love and respect that doesn’t die even after Minas’ passing.
Queer romance stories often have an element of tragedy to them, tragedy that is a reality for many of us around the world.
At the store there are moments between Halim and Youssef that are quiet and intimate. A slight touch here and there, a long gaze and even when Halim gives Youssef a lesson in stitching, Youssef is not really listening to him, he is watching him. These moments are sweet but also heartbreaking, as it seems like this is the farthest both could ever go with each other, even if they might want more. There are times when Halim seeks pleasure from other men at a local Hammam, a bathhouse. These brief relations are secretive in nature but they serve as a much needed release and as a tool for exploration of the self. Exploration I would have wished to see more of, as Halim is the type of character to hide away.
This is a melancholic story, but it does give glimmers of hope and somewhere in there, there is space for joy. Queer romance stories often have an element of tragedy to them, tragedy that is a reality for many of us around the world. I felt sad watching this film, but like I wrote earlier, I was also hopeful. I hope to see more stories that capture the tenderness of a budding gay romance, like this one. I hope to see stories that aren’t afraid to acknowledge the claustrophobic pain that is living inside “the closet”, but don’t accept it as a requirement for queer existence. The Blue Caftan is a truly beautiful film. One about heavyhearted, valid love.
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Text: Fiona Musanga
Fiona Musanga is a Rwandese filmmaker, writer and visual artist currently based in Helsinki, Finland. Musanga has written, directed and produced two short films (Don’t Worry, Alonely) and is currently working on her third. Also she has written an autobiographical work (A collection of memories). Musanga is one of the founding members of Ubuntu Film Club, a collective that hosts film screenings and panel discussions all around Helsinki.