If I needed another reason to visit the historic city of Istanbul once in my life, I now have it. In her documentary feature Kedi, director Ceyda Torun introduces us to the wild-(ish) and wonderful cats that help give the city its distinctive identity. From feline rapscallions always hinting for a treat, to gentlemanly aristo-cats who find subtler ways into their human’s hearts, it’s hard not to walk away from Kedi with admiration and a smile on your face. After all, for creatures that surely commune with the divine, they deign to give meaning and purpose to our lives.
How Istanbul became a city of free-roaming cats goes back generations, when ships carrying different breeds from around the world made birth in the city. These hardworking sea-mousers entered the city for light R&R, missed their boat ride home, and the rest is history. Over hundreds of years the populations increased and made the cats a permanent fixture in the community. The film follows six or so cats, as we learn about their specific personalities from their actions as well as from the people who know them best.
I say six cats, but really every frame of Kedi is imbued with them; some sleeping on sidewalks outside cafés, sleeping on canopies over shops, the more daring sleeping on building ledges five stories above the street. There’s a lot of sleeping and perilous climbing, these are cats after all, but there’s also a beautiful story of how these cats become a part of the lives of the people of Istanbul. It’s the cats that choose their humans, never the reverse, and the citizens of the city see it as their privilege to care for these animals that bring joy and purpose to their day to day activities. When Torun speaks to those she is interviewing they talk about the cats like they would members of their family. They can be a real pain, but if they fail to show up one day they begin to worry. Their routine is affected, and the presence of a familiar face is sorely missed.
The amount of money and time it takes to care for these cats is also of note. It’s such a different mindset from Americans who, at best, view street animals as creatures to be pitied, and at worst, a blight that needs to be eradicated. If these cats are sick or injured they are brought to the vet like any pet would be. Meals are prepared each day in homes and restaurants that anticipate their arrival. There’s one man who discovered a litter of kittens living by the waterfront alone who takes it upon himself to hand-feed them milk by a dropper multiple times a day. He does this because of an experience he had with a cat years earlier that changed his life for the better. It’s his way of paying back a universe that was kind to him and it’s inspiring to witness. Many of these citizens have cats as pets, but these street cats are different. They would never dream of confining them to a house because to do so would strip them of their identity. Some cats are born to be pets, and some are meant to live free. Regardless, both are entitled to the best Istanbul has to offer.
I don’t know how much footage it takes to get to the soul of a cat, but it’s pretty amazing to recognize one cat out of a hundred because of their unique gait, their surly disposition, or the way they politely paw a window instead of a pant leg to get food or attention. Torun does a great job capturing each cat and how they clearly leave their humans smitten. If you are looking for the negatives of a city full of cats you won’t find many such arguments here, although I’m sure some exist (for instance, where’s the litter box?). But this isn’t that kind of film. If you need to be reminded of some goodness in the world, it’s that kind of film.
I felt joyful after watching Kedi. It’s a small escape to another world and way of life that will hopefully inspire the best of us to do more for the small furry friends in our neighborhoods. And kudos to the gentleman in the film who I will continue to loosely quote for eternity about why cats are just the best: “dogs believe humans are gods, cats know better.”
Kedi opens today in Philadelphia at the Ritz Bourse theater.
Author: Jill Malcolm
Jill is happiest attending midnight screenings with other crazy film fans at her local theater. Her other passions include reading, traveling to faraway places, cat videos, pugs, and jalapeño peppers. She is co-founder of the blog Filmhash.