As a self-proclaimed expert on all things springy, wet nosed, pointy eared, and whiskered, I would like quickly say how delighted I am to have been asked to write the review for Ceyda Torun’s new documentary, Kedi. Kedi is a charming documentary capable of warming any heart, even the heart of a those frogs that freeze like frogsicles in the winter and live. When Sam and I walked out of the theatre, Sam said to me how relaxing it was to just watch cats for an hour and twenty minutes. This film feels like a study of empathy, like a form of vivacious meditation, the sort of meditation where you can laugh out loud with the entire theatre at all the peculiar behaviors that cats (and people) all around the world seem to share.
The charming interviews are filled with countless droplets of wisdom about what it means to fully engage with life, physically and spiritually. What starts as a quirky anthropomorphizing of the many street cats quickly becomes a portrait of the local community in the ancient city of Istanbul. We get to meet the artists, the restaurant workers, the fisherman who share a reverence for the cats in their lives and who make up the city.
These people are not talking heads, bursting at the seam with years of academic cat knowledge and cat degrees. The interviews feature people working, laying out fish at the market, wrapping dumplings, and unlocking storefronts in the morning. This exposure makes it so easy to get lost in the beauty of Istanbul. The turquoise waters and vibrant street almost become four-dimensional, and you can smell the Mediterranean air. The cats don’t just happen to be around, they are an integral part of the streets that pave the way of people’s everyday lives.
There was a moment in one interview that gripped me, at the end of the very first interview. As a local woman describes how this street cat moved in and became “hers”, she remarks that it is not worthwhile to lock up a cat inside so that you and only you can pet it, but rather to just simply understand it and communicate with it. While she works, she opens the door for the cat because the cat cannot, she welcomes her kittens because they need a home, she sees it as a strong-willed, emotional, distinct individual who deserves a good quality of life, affection, and most importantly, empathy. Another man says, “If you can not love animals, you can not love people”.
Kedi looks beautiful. The cinematography in retrospect is difficult for me to wrap my head around. As a former cat owner and neighborhood cat feeder, I know that when a cat is hiding you will not see it, a cat is closer to the ground and faster than you, and that cats do not care about their presence on Instagram, YouTube, in films, etc. Yet somehow the cinematographer, Charlie Wuppermann, manages to make it look like these cats are pro reality-TV stars.
We glide, low, across the streets with the cats. We get all the furry close ups, the world reflecting in their wise owl-like eyes, the agility, the sneaking, the food-thievery, the nests new mothers hide from the world, the relationships, the naps.
These cats, while claiming no owners, cause deep reflection in the lives of the people they touch. Many remark on how taking care of these cats lets them heal, from crippling anxiety or past traumas for example. Others claim that cats “absorb” extra energy that would otherwise make us angry or wild. Almost all interviewed claim that cats (unlike dogs or any other animal) know that humans are just their middlemen to God.Some cats lead their chosen humans to abandoned wallets full of money, some cats help in more abstract ways, but it seems as though the presence of street cats in the lives of these people reaffirms the presence of a “soul” and the value of compassion.
The street cats have been there since the inception of the city, they have watched empires like the Ottoman empire rise and fall, so perhaps it is important to stop and listen to what they have to say. This documentary lets us do just that. As the film comes to an end, a local man says that a cat at your feet, looking up at you and meowing, that that is the definition of happiness. If you agree, perhaps Kedi is the film you need in your life right now.
Kedi gets 9 out of 10 lives.