Slowly, almost tenderly, the camera glides over the folds of petrol-colored velvet, exploring it like a coveted body. Halim (Saleh Bakri) is a maalem, a master caftan tailor, with his seriously ill wife Mina (Lubna Azabal), the quiet man runs a traditional workshop in the medina of Salé. Craftsmanship is dying out, many customers no longer appreciate the high-quality work and become cross if things don’t go fast enough. Halim, who learned the art from his father, still sews every stitch by hand. As he says himself, his kaftans should “stand the test of time”.
Stitches for elaborate ornaments
In The Blue of the Kaftan, Moroccan filmmaker Maryam Touzani dedicates herself to the art of tailoring with a care that is usually lacking in films about the world of fashion. Again and again you can see hands stroking the fabric, how the gold thread is twisted into a cord and the stitches combine to form artistic ornaments. However, the devotion and love with which Halim carries out his work point to a different setting from the very first images of the film: the body and sexual desire.
In the hamam, Halim occasionally retreats to a single cubicle with a stranger, the camera always stays in front of the door. Once you see two pairs of feet through a gap, their changing positions tell what the picture hides. Touzani’s discretion seems less due to the fact that the home audience shouldn’t be overwhelmed with the subject of homosexuality – sex between men is punishable by imprisonment in Morocco. The film never wants to go further than Halim’s feelings of shame allow. Dealing with Mina’s illness is just as discreet.
In general, “The Blue of the Kaftan” is a film of hints and restraint. At first there is an unspoken tension between the couple, only gradually does a space open up for their intimacy, for all the small rituals in their shared life, for the shared humor. When Youssef (Ayoub Missioui), a new apprentice, starts in the workshop, Halim’s facade breaks open. When he guides the young man’s hand in cutting the fabric or when Youssef puts the measuring tape around the master’s neck, the work on the fabric is no longer sublimation, but a medium that has awakened the buried desire.
Attention to every move
Like her debut “Adam”, “The Blue of the Kaftan” is largely a chamber play, the focus is on the relationships between the characters, which unfold parallel to the making of a decorative caftan. Sometimes Touzani gets too attached to the idea of character development, both Mina, whose illness is progressing, and Halim have tasks to do. The mechanical construction can only partially compensate for the intimacy between the characters and the attention that the film pays to each of their movements and gestures.
Virginie Surdej’s camera, who already created sensual images for the sweet pastry baked in fat in “Adam”, mainly works with close-ups. When she is not researching faces, she is interested in fabric surfaces, embroidered borders and buttons. Something pure, almost sacred, surrounds the art of tailoring as well as the figures. Their three-way constellation, which is based on care and love, has nothing to do with the relationship scenarios that the cinema likes to talk about.
Despite all the breaking of taboos – in the end Touzani also violates the Islamic burial rules – anything combative and sharp is alien to the film. His gestures are grand but without pathos. Everything is done with the gentleness of a hand-set stitch.
To home page
I have been working in the news industry for over 10 years now and I have worked for some of the biggest news websites in the world. My focus has always been on entertainment news, but I also cover a range of other topics. I am currently an author at Global happenings and I love writing about all things pop-culture related.