In many ways, it’s only natural that a film like Kedi should come along. The internet loves cats, of course. Even if the internet doesn’t necessarily deserve cats. And a documentary about cats is a no-brainer of a concept (we’ll pretend Lil Bub & Friendz doesn’t exist because it is terrible). The real surprise then isn’t that Kedi exists, but that it quietly subverts any lazy reading that people would no doubt all too easily assign to it. Yes, it is the movie about street cats of Istanbul, but that’s just a hook for audiences whose attentions are being torn this way and that. The truth is that Ceyda Torun’s elegant and enchanting Kedi is so much more.
Even if it was just about the cats – what cats they are! In what can only be described as a particularly unique set of casting, Torun’s film shuffles across the city with vignettes about a collection of individual moggies, following them around as they roam the streets, finding food, fighting, hunting, battling for attention from humans who aren’t so much owners as casual caretakers, and thieving fish from markets and ports.
But, as I said, Kedi is much less interested in just being a film about cats. Rather it is a film that uses cats as a platform to dive into the history of a city, its people, its culture, and questioning what our relationship with cats says about us.
This is a most unconventional portrait of Istanbul, and a desperately needed one for a city and a country more often than not aligned with violence and terror. As the film tells us, the cats of Istanbul have been here for so long that they have seen the city change and morph; they have seen empires rise and fall, a city build and collapse and build again. We learn about the various means that the felines arrived there, their role in the city’s eco-system and what they mean to today’s residents as, once again, the interface of the city changes with a burgeoning number of high-rise apartments that could alter the lives of human and feline residents alike.
Even at just 80 minutes, it could be argued it's too long. And yet Torun does such a good job at burrowing into this most unexpected universe that it is easily forgivable that she kept as much in as she did. She demonstrates a wonderfully kicky ability to highlight unexpected narratives and weave them throughout the film, like that of the “neighbourhood psychopath” and her “husband” who has to wait at the sidelines before he can eat. Or the giggles that arise from the camera capturing a new neighbourhood cat asserting its dominance in vying for one woman's attention on her second-floor balcony. And then there is the man who is adamant a cat enacted a sort of divine intervention after his boat sank during a storm while a woman suggests cats possess the lost art of femininity. And in one of the more curious moments, one man hypothesises that cats are aware of God. In Kedi, the human stories are just as enrapturing as the felines’.
Kedi is a modest film, make no mistakes about it. But thanks to smart camerawork from cinematographers Alp Korfali and Charlie Wupperman – I loved those low-level cat POV shots; these cats are surely not camera shy like mine – and a delicate finesse courtesy of Mo Stoebe’s editing, it is a gorgeous one that frequently surprises as much as it delights.