Director: Ceyda Torun
Running Time: 1:20
Release Date: 2/10/17 (limited); 2/14/17 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | February 23, 2017
The most shocking thing about switching from being a lifelong dog owner to becoming a cat owner is the realization that the word "owner" doesn't really apply to cats. The new phrase is that pet owners are "pet parents," and that definitely doesn't apply. Sure, the cat needs food, water, and, when—and only when—the animal wants it, attention. If one spends enough time with even a domesticated housecat, though, you get the impression that it would probably find a way to fend for itself for a while, especially if it knows where the food and water are to be found.
The relationship between humans and cats is a strange one. They're independent creatures, so much so that it's best to see a cat as a roommate. A cat can be an annoying roommate at times, but it's important to know that a cat probably sees you as an annoying roommate more often than you see it as one.
Cats, as we commonly know them, are domesticated animals, but they give off the impression that they domesticated themselves as an easy way to get what they want when they want it. They're curious creatures.
It comes as little surprise, then, to learn from Kedi that cats have been living on the streets of Istanbul for hundreds of years. They care for themselves and their young by finding scraps of food on the street and drinking from whatever water is available. They also take advantage of the kindness of human strangers, who put out cups of water with signs announcing that the water is for the street cats and warning that, if you don't want to suffer unquenchable thirst in the afterlife, you had better not touch the cups.
Some people go out of their way to find the spots where a good number of cats are located and feed them. Other people have taken in strays that have been injured or were the runts of their respective litters, although it must be said that the cats are taken in as much as one can "take in" a cat. They still go out to the streets at will. The people caring for the cats don't mind. They consider it cruel to keep a cat penned up indoors.
So far, we're mostly talking about people in relation to the film, a documentary that is directly about these cats—sometimes feigning a "cat's eye" view of what it's like to scurry down sidewalks and dart under the tables at a local market. The cats are undoubtedly the stars of the film, and they're a good entryway into this place, a location that was at the center of a massive empire that lasted for centuries. Cats were there for it all, having been brought to the city on trading vessels, needing to control the problem of mice on their ships, and becoming a necessity with the construction of a sewage system, which meant rats.
What, though, is the rise or fall of an empire to a cat? These cats, like all cats, want food, water, a place to sleep (which is anywhere, by the way—on the street, on a chair, on an awning), a shelter for their kittens, and, every so often, a little attention and affection. It's an easy life, which is captured with some occasionally nimble camerawork by director Ceyda Torun (along with cinematographers Alp Korfali and Charlie Wuppermann).
The cats here—with a handful or so getting their own sections of focus within the film—prance down the streets, jump on top of cars, beg for food at outdoor cafés, seek out fish and scratching material at markets, and hunt for mice in gutters. They care for their young, which are usually hidden from human sight, and sometimes fight for territory, either to protect their litter or for themselves, such as the case of a ginger cat, following the example of another stray, that hops into someone's apartment by means of a tree (The cats are welcome by the human inhabitants, by the way).
It's such an easy life that it's little wonder people in the city are at times drawn to these cats with something approaching envy. Most of the attachment, though, comes from a sense of compassion—a feeling of needing to care for these cats.
There are other connections that the people here possess, too. Two artists, who live in different parts of the city, have taken in a cat, and one says that he does so because the feline's presence offers him comfort in a life that is fairly isolated. A woman tends to multiple injured cats in her home and makes homemade cat food for the strays near her home. She talks about having difficulty in accepting the fact of death and how caring for the cats has given her comfort. A similar story comes from a man who walks the streets with plastic bags filled with fish, stopping at the places where he knows multiple cats stay to feed them. He tried therapy and pills, but only feeding these cats has given him—you should know what's coming by now—comfort.
There's a sense of despair among the people of Istanbul that Torun captures, almost as if by accident. A lot of it comes from changes to the city (Modern skyscrapers in one section stand out among the older buildings), as well as the fear that more change is inevitable. Kedi doesn't examine this in any detail, because, well, it's too busy with the cats, but it's still there and appreciated.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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