Movie Review – Kedi
Directed by Ceyda Torun
Starring Sari, Bengü and Psikopat
Sari is a homeless mother of four who struggles to survive on the busy streets of Istanbul. Leaving her children in the daytime, she searches the streets of the city to find scraps of food to feed them. Luckily for her and her family, a young woman, an artist, gives them shelter and fawning affection.
So begins Kedi, the new documentary by Turkish filmmaker Ceyda Torun. Though it may sound like some somber chronicle of the hardships of the city’s neglected humanity, Kedi is anything but, for Sari is not a human being. Sari is a cat, one of seven from the streets of the city profiled in this unique and delightful film.
There are hundreds of thousands of feral cats roaming the streets of Istanbul, we are told. They coexist with the people of the ancient, increasingly industrialized city, living off whatever they can find, often with the help of the kind humans who love them and look after them. Each of the seven cats profiled in Kedi (Turkish for “cat”) has a unique personality that corresponds to different behavioral traits often associated (correctly or incorrectly) with cats. There’s the hustler, the psychopath, the hunter, the player, etc. And each of them has a featured human benefactor who has taken it upon themselves to care for and nurture one or more of the city’s feline citizens. There is that female artist who draws inspiration from the cats she encounters, the burly fisherman who tells of a “miracle” a cat once performed in his life and the chef who feeds his lucky feline patron turkey and emmentaler cheese.
The caretakers provide most of the film’s narration, each offering some homegrown wisdom or cat-centric homily. “Cats are aware of god’s existence, while dogs think people are god,” one voice ruminates. And “A person who can’t love animals can’t love people either,” another instructs. Many of these people have found emotional healing through their relationships with cats. An old man healing from a nervous breakdown roams the shores of the city feeding the numerous cats he encounters. An emotionally scarred woman prepares her own homemade meals to give to the cats. The redemptive powers of these interspecies relationships are a major theme of the film.
These people and their stories infuse the film with a sense of wisdom and a lingering spiritual backdrop, but Kedi’s real stars, as expected, are the cats themselves. Through the brilliant cinematography of Alp Korfali and Charlie Wuppermann and the visionary eye of Torun, we get to know them on a very personal level. Many shots are filmed from a cats-eye-view, winding and twisting around corners, under tables, and through corridors at the subject’s own level. We see them exploring the city, hunting rats in the sewers, and scavenging for food at fish markets. Other times, the camera simply sits and observes. Cats lie in the sun on balconies and rooftops, bicker among themselves in the streets, and interact playfully with each other and the citizens whose acceptance of their ubiquitous presence is remarkable and singular.
One of the joys of Kedi is the way the cats are portrayed as part of Istanbul itself. They’re a unifying and omniscient presence in the city. There are sweeping helicopter shots of the city and radiant images of its streets and houses, seemingly photographed in the perpetually glowing hues of dawn and twilight. We see the shops, the cafes, and the fish markets bustling with people. Our ears are filled with the colorful sounds of Turkish pop music. And the cats are there too, coming and going about their business like everyone else. They are part of the city’s vibrant fabric, an indispensable part of its identity.
While there are concerns expressed about overpopulation and the encroachment of new construction that threatens to displace the cats and separate them from the people, and the film touches, ever so briefly on the inevitable presence of death and injury to its subjects, the overwhelming vibe is joyful and meditative. Kedi saves the social concerns and scientific data for the PBS and Discovery Channel documentaries, focusing instead on the spiritual connection between man and beast and the simple joys of being around cats. It’s like an extended art house version of one of those YouTube cat compilations but impeccably photographed, edited, and directed by skillful professionals, and imbued with a decidedly philosophical bent.
For those viewers who are not inherently spellbound by images of waif-like kittens and doe-eyed bundles of fur curled up for a nap, pathetic souls that they are, Kedi’s charms may leave them cold or bored. And to be honest, even for this cat worshipper, the film does get a bit repetitive near the end. But for those of us who love cats, who find our souls irrepressibly possessed by them, Kedi is more than an 80-minute cat video. It’s a charming and poetic love letter to ailurophiles everywhere and a welcome reminder of the magical and mysterious allure of our beloved feline friends.