The people of Istanbul love their cats. The prevailing sentiment, courtesy of a lady who runs a clothing store where one stray sets up shop: “People who don’t love animals can’t love people, either.”
“Kedi,” a documentary by Ceyda Torun, is a love letter to cat lovers (Kedi is the Turkish word for cat). There are thousands of stray felines living in the Turkish capital, and they have been a daily part of the residents’ lives for hundreds of years.
They wander the city, and many become recognizable parts of an establishment — say, a sidewalk cafe, or an open-air farmer’s market. Some will allow themselves to be taken into private homes, as long as they can explore the neighborhood at will (the cats seem to be in charge, and the people of Istanbul are OK with it).
Cats, it seems, were instrumental to the early success of the Ottoman Empire, which was established in the 13th century. Cats helped eradicate a rat problem that plagued the first sewer system of the city, then known as Constantinople, and have been allowed the run of the city ever since.
Residents often take it upon themselves to scoop up an ailing cat in their neighborhood and take it to the vet if they see a problem. Or, as in this film, an unsuspecting fishing boat captain might find his vessel to be the place where a cat gives birth, staying there as she tends to her litter.
It’s possible Torun built as a special camera hookup, as much of the film operates at cats-eye level. The documentary is gentle and observational, unfolding slowly and smoothly. No overarching drama here, just a slice of daily life.
The cats give comfort to many. One older woman says the cycle of life and death she witnesses among her neighborhood strays have helped her face her own death, whenever that comes. A younger woman, an artist, says the cats’ resilience help give her strength as a single woman.
“In this country, to be a woman is difficult,” she says. “To express your femininity, to be defiant with your femininity. When you’re alone for long periods of time, your animal instincts are sharper. Maybe it’s a quality that should be developed more in all of us.”
But humans can only draw so many lessons from cats. As one man says, with resignation: “If only we could land on all fours.”
☆☆☆ out of 5
Director: Ceyda Torun.
Running time: 1:27.
Rated: Not rated.
Note: In Turkish with English subtitles.