“A cat meowing at your feet, looking up at you, is life smiling at you.”
Ceyda Torun’s fantastic documentary Kedi is a love letter, by her own admission – not only to the feline population of Istanbul, but to the part of the world in which she grew up. Following the lives of several roving cats, weaving throughout the ancient city at their level, it illustrates both the free spirit of these animals and the almost mystical bond they share with the people who live there. The boundless kindness of the Turkish people who care for these cats, who feed them and give them intermittent shelter and attention when they come begging for it, imbues the film with a heart that’s impossible to ignore, and truly beautiful to witness.
Of course, the real stars of Kedi are the kitties themselves, meandering throughout the various sections of Istanbul with as varied purposes and temperaments as the people who talk about them. In vignettes celebrating the species’ resilience, grace, and independence, the film focuses in particular on seven individual cats and the humans to whom they have tended to gravitate for one reason or another. These human benefactors offer up their wisdom as well, ruminating on the connections between the feline denizens of their hometown and the humanity they bring out in the people who share it. They speak of these creatures as kindred spirits, as inspirations, as healers walking on padded paws – even as philosophers to a society in microcosm, operating in tandem with that of the people.
Kedi’s cats become as recognizable as characters in a dramatic comedy, each individual feline focused upon throughout the film tells its story in the ways its actions and tendencies are interpreted by the people who have gotten to know it personally. Little Sari, often shooed from the fish-market for stealing food for her babies, is described as a hustler whose instinctive drive to provide woke her from a life of leisurely napping. Bengü, the soft tabby with a gentle personality, is a “sensitive” cat, who lives to love and purr as loudly as she can whenever she is given any attention – but hidden beneath her sweet disposition is a fierce and feral diligence to protect her tiny kittens, tucked in a secret place among the trappings of an industrial complex. The neighborhood bully cat, known literally as a psychopath – Psikopat – dominates her mate, whom she aggressively guards from the advances of the few who would dare challenge her. Deniz is a lovable market-stall scamp, curling up in boxes of wares and making a general nuisance of himself, while Duman spends his days scratching at the window of a delicatessen and waiting semi-politely until he is brought plates of smoked turkey and fine cheeses. Gamsiz, a bruiser and “thug” of a cat, patrols his territory with a great amount of seriousness, and Aslan Parçasi, a “little lion of a cat”, earns his keep along the coast of the Bosphorous catching rodents near the seaside restaurants there.
Kedi is a tapestry, woven through with the golden threads of the quick, catlike movements of its street cinematography and the blended soundtrack, which trades off between Turkish pop music and a score by Kira Fontana incorporating more traditional sounds. Cats, this film suggests, are of two worlds – strange alien beings which become ethereal and spiritual symbols, and busy, furry individuals eking out an existence among the societies living around and above them. To commune with them is to find the divine and most sacred, most human parts of the self.
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