BY STEVE MARTINDALE
Salt Spring Film Festival Society
In the bustling Moroccan medina of Salé, a master tailor and his devoted wife find themselves in a love triangle with a handsome apprentice in Maryam Touzani’s award-winning drama The Blue Caftan, screening at ArtSpring on Wednesday, Feb. 1 as part of the Salt Spring Film Festival’s ongoing Best of the Fests series.
To keep up with their demanding customers, Halim and Mina hire a young man to help them in their traditional caftan store. Youssef eagerly dedicates himself to learning the art of embroidery and tailoring from his perfectionist employer, until Mina begins to suspect that their relationship involves sharing more than traditional craftsmanship. What lies ahead for this adoring trio will break all three of them open in unexpected and heart-wrenching ways.
For her empathetic portrayal of the high-spirited Mina, a woman passionately in love with a man whose physical attractions primarily lie elsewhere, Lubna Azabal, a Belgian actress of Moroccan descent, was named Best Actress at the 2022 Valladolid International Film Festival in Spain.
A Moroccan, French, Belgian and Danish co-production, The Blue Caftan is the quintessentially memorable art-house film, featuring a subtitled foreign language spoken in an exotic locale, gorgeous cinematography, highly relatable characters with familiar wants and needs confronting cultural norms and orthodoxies which may initially seem foreign to us, but which differ from our own only by matters of degree.
Written and directed by the celebrated Moroccan filmmaker Maryam Touzani, The Blue Caftan greatly benefits from also having a woman behind the camera, the award-winning Belgian cinematographer Virginie Surdej. She imbues otherwise mundane domestic scenes with tender intimacy and radiant sensuality.
Whether focusing on close-ups of a man’s veined hands stitching elaborate gold embroidery on luxurious blue satin, or the everyday eroticism of a woman peeling a tangerine, the painterly eye of Surdej’s camera is reminiscent of the work of the late Canadian artist Mary Pratt, whose hyperrealist techniques were profiled in Kenneth Harvey’s documentary It Was All So Wonderful, which screened at the Salt Spring Film Festival in 2020.
This would likely have been a very different film had it been written, directed and filmed by men. Despite its undeniably homo-erotic undertones and very brief nudity, The Blue Caftan’s focus is firmly on the various forms of love and adoration — both sensual and platonic — that exist between respectful adults, including the in-sickness-and-in-health devotion within a loving marriage that transcends and ultimately outlasts physical desire.
Co-presented by DAISSI, this richly erotic and deeply moving festival favourite won the prestigious FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes, the Jury Prize at the Marrakech International Film Festival and the Audience Award at the Athens International Film Festival, where it also won the Greek Film Critics Association Award for Best Film. It has also been shortlisted for the Oscars in a select group of 15 films chosen from among those submitted for consideration by 93 countries in contention for the coveted Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.
The “Best of the Fests” series also includes Phyllis Nagy’s Call Jane on Jan. 25 and continues on Feb. 8 when Vancouver filmmaker Kat Jayme will present her wildly entertaining documentary The Grizzlie Truth, which won an Audience Award at the Vancouver International Film Festival, in which she doggedly investigates the scandalous 2001 relocation of the Vancouver Grizzlies to Memphis.
Don’t miss these one-night-only screenings at ArtSpring. Tickets are $13 each (and a student rate of $8 is available for The Grizzlie Truth) and are available online at artspring.ca, or at the ArtSpring box office from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Friday (either in person or by phone at 250-537-2102).