80 minutes | No MPAA rating
“Without cats the world loses part of its soul.”
That comment from a resident of Istanbul, Turkey, pretty much sums up the ethos of “Kedi (Cat),” a nonlinear documentary about that city’s vast population of semi-feral street felines.
Director Ceyda Torun’s film offers no scrolls of relevant statistics; no testimony by animal control officers, city fathers or health specialists; no fact-dispensing narration.
Instead we listen to everyday Istanbul residents talk about their relationships with the felines who share their lives. We marvel at some of the most amazing cat footage ever.
The tens of thousands of cats who live on Istanbul’s streets aren’t wild, exactly. They may not have owners as such, but most have struck up lasting relationships with one or more humans.
The cats receive food, grooming and occasional medical care; the humans report a significant improvement in their lives. (One fellow claims his cat buddies cured him of mental illness; now he devotes big part of every day and a substantial chunk of his income to feeding them.)
These aren’t your stereotypical cat ladies. They’re shop owners, cooks, fish mongers, pensioners, students and others who simply love living in a city where almost everywhere you look there’s a cat running, climbing, sleeping.
But the human/animal connections run deep. Says one young woman of her very first cat: “Let’s just say that if there’s an afterlife, I want to meet her again. Not my grandmother.”
A baker notes that he has spent thousands on medical care for the animals that regularly visit his shop: “We have a running tab at the vet’s.” The contents of his tip jar are earmarked for feline upkeep.
In fact, the mortality rate for these animals appears to be high. Some live to a ripe old age, but others die young, often to cancer and motorized traffic.
“Kedi” leaves a lot unsaid and unexplored. The origins of this huge cat population are referred to only tangentially — something about felines that arrived on Norwegian cargo ships in the 19th century and stayed. Apparently those furry visitors earned the city’s gratitude for taking on the rodent population.
Nor is there any discussion of whether having all these cats running wild poses health threats to humans. There may be cat haters in Istanbul, but you won’t find them in this documentary.
Visually “Kedi” is an absolute knockout. The cinematography by Alp Korfali and Charlie Wupperman is the equal of any National Geographic special. Although it must have been a lot more convenient filming in a place with lots of sidewalk cafes than in a jungle or desert.
Their cameras follow the cats on their daily rounds — usually at ground level, so that we see a world of human feet and legs. The cats appear to have been amazingly tolerant of the filmmakers in their midst.
We see these creatures playing, snoozing (a lot of that) and engaging in spectacular acrobatics (some of these pussies have the climbing ability of squirrels).
Some we stick with long enough to begin to appreciate their unique personalities, and why certain humans have glommed onto them.
Here’s the thing: You can’t own one of these cats. You have to be befriended by them.
There’s a lesson there for human relations as well.
Not to mention an awwwww factor that’s off the charts.
| Robert W. Butler