The Most Heartwarming Valentine's Movie is This Queer Muslim Film.


Have you ever put on a random movie just so you had something to watch, only to walk away with a whole new perspective on life? That’s what happened to me when I watched Le bleu du caftan last year. When you hear that the story focuses on a man, his dying wife, and his new male love interest, you might expect a sordid tale of passion and betrayal. Instead, though, you get a Valentine’s film that speaks to love in all its forms and contradictions, heartwarming to watch with a friend, lover, or even alone.

Unfortunately, though, The Blue Caftan came and went relatively unnoticed, likely due to the film’s deep roots in Moroccan culture. As someone engaged to a Moroccan, who speaks some Darija and lived in Morocco for a time, here’s a quick guide to help you appreciate the movie through three of its locations. Be warned : there are lots of spoilers ahead, but it's worth it to understand this masterpiece.

The Caftan Shop - Partnership

Mina and Halim in their traditional caftan shop.
Mina and Halim in their traditional caftan shop.

We first find our characters in a small shop in Salé, a seedy city next to Morocco’s capital. Owned by Mina and Halim, everything about it speaks to tradition, from the traditional caftans it sells to the stubborn insistence on hand sewing and preserving historical techniques. That a man is making the caftans is slightly out of place, but forgivable. One day, though, a young man arrives - Youssef, who wants to be Halim’s apprentice. Mina doubts him, not only his skill but also his dedication to the dying art, though as romance begins to bloom between the master and apprentice, one can’t help but wonder if there might be jealousy hiding beneath her critiques.

We soon realise, though, that Halim isn’t Youssef's true teacher. Instead, Mina herself is, teaching him not how to sew but rather how to be a good partner for Halim. It turns out that Mina is terminally ill, and while she might have come to terms with her own death, she hasn’t yet accepted leaving the love of her life behind. Their relationship isn’t exactly traditional, given that her husband is gay, but that doesn’t mean there is any less love between them.

As such, Mina takes it upon herself to train Youssef, being harsh and exacting not out of jealousy but out of a desire to make sure her partner is well cared for when she’s gone. In doing so, the caftan shop takes on a subversive role, becoming a place for teaching and creating love instead of clothing.

The Hammam - Sexuality

A typical Moroccan hammam (except with less nudity).
A typical Moroccan hammam (except with less nudity).

The next important location in the film is the hammam. For those unfamiliar, the most simple description of hammams would be bathhouses. In reality, though, the societal significance they hold goes far beyond bodily purification. They are where you go to sit for hours in the nude with your neighbors, socialising and gossiping while having your skin rubbed raw by the workers within. It’s an alarming experience for those unused to it, but it’s an integral part of Moroccan culture, a place where both dirt and dirty little secrets are washed away.

That then makes it all the more scandalous to see how Halim uses the hammam. He goes directly against the principles of the location - he removes himself from the communal context by booking a private room, preserving his secrets and stealing a sensual moment that seems anything but purifying. His exploitation of the time and space, using it for the opposite of its intended purpose, is almost poetic. Given how homophobic Morocco tends to be, it’s understandable that Halim takes advantage of the opportunity as well.

The real beauty of this choice in the film, however, is how we once again see a character take a traditional space and fundamentally change it : rather than seeing the hammam as a place of mental torture and the risk of being outed, Halim uses it as an outlet for the love and sexuality he cannot publically express.

The Cafe - Romance

Halim and Youssef on a date at the cafe.
Halim and Youssef on a date at the cafe.

A cafe is just a cafe, right? Not in Morocco. While I was there, I rarely went to cafes on because even in the more progressive Rabat, they oozed with unwelcoming masculinity. The chairs often faced the street, giving the men a chance to watch the streets, and of course the women walking by. It is no surprise, then, that Mina is so unwelcome there - not only is she a woman in a masculine space, she’s also loud and present rather than passive and observable as the typical cafe patrons would like. While the other two locations could be bent and molded for new uses, the cafe refuses, and so it defeats Mina by steadfastly rejecting her.

Youssef and Halim, however, finally manage to repurpose the space in the final scene. After Mina’s passing, they return to the cafe just the two of them. There is no discomfort anymore, as they blend in perfectly with the crowd. Their conformity is a ruse, however, and the pair seem quite smug about it. The space for “manly men” has now become a place where a queer couple can go on a date despite the culture that would do anything to stop them.

They manage it because while Mina wanted to break the cultural space, these two are simply content existing quietly within the bounds of their tradition and pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes. It’s a final act of love, one that balances romance with tradition to find a way to have both even when they seem contradictory.

Living and Loving

Not-so-fun fact : Ayoub Missioui, Lubna Azabal, and Saleh Bakri all grew up outside of Morocco - unsurprising, as the general homophobia in Morocco would ruin local actors' careers.
Not-so-fun fact : Ayoub Missioui, Lubna Azabal, and Saleh Bakri all grew up outside of Morocco - unsurprising, as the general homophobia in Morocco would ruin local actors' careers.

In the end, what I find so fascinating and inspirational about this film is how it deals with tradition and love. These days, people tend to favour the idea that “oppressive” traditions must be done away with so people can be free to express themselves. Le bleu du caftan, however, presents both keeping and breaking tradition as valid choices. Mina dislikes how her culture takes away her identity, and Halim and Youssef respect that by putting her in a blue caftan rather than a traditional white veil after her death. At the same time, though, Halim and Youssef love their culture and figure out how to exist within it.

In the end, all love is valid. Romance is important, of course, but so is love for a life partner or for one’s country and culture. The value you give each and how you manage them is a personal journey - whether you bend or break them, it’s all your choice in the end. Regardless, no matter who you find by your side this Valentine’s Day (or if you find nobody by your side at all), Le bleu du caftan is sure to be a perfectly comforting companion for the holiday.

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