A tailor wrestles with his sexuality in The Blue Caftan, a tender Moroccan drama in Un Certain Regard from Maryam Touzani. Also a subtle portrait of a marriage, it slowly unveils the issues of its characters with an empathetic, admiring gaze: these are two people who are highly principled and strive to be thoughtful, even if one of them does not always succeed.
Halim (Saleh Bakri) is a man of few words, and they are spoken softly when he does so. He takes great care with his work, and patiently explains how time consuming it is to handmake a quality caftan to demanding customers. His wife Mina (Lubna Azabal) sometimes works with him, and also demonstrates diplomacy with their customers. Once they’ve shut up shop, she imitates them and makes her husband laugh: the playful humor in their relationship is one of the most charming elements of this film. It’s also there when she watches her first football match with him in a cafe-bar, leaping to her feet and shouting “goal!,” even if it’s the other team who’s scored.
The pair convulse into laughter about this over the course of the evening, and it’s a rare sight to see a movie couple bonding so convincingly over an in-joke. “It’s just a ball,” she shrugs as she expresses her mystification over the attractions of the game.
It’s a bit of an emotional tug when the challenges in this couple’s marriage are revealed, from illness to potential infidelity. Their hiring of an attractive young tailor, Youssef (Ayoub Messioui) may turn out to have a connection to both storylines.
Touzani eyes their predicaments with sensitivity and grace, although Mina’s character is perhaps remarkably saintly in the circumstances. There’s a brief sense of the political climate when they are asked for ID checks in the medina. But this remains mainly a poignant story of a closeted man who has made his marriage work against the odds, and who may be facing a new chapter.