“Kedi”A film by Ceyda Torun/ Distributed worldwide by Oscilloscope Laboratories Essay/Review by Ray Hogan
Visit the ancient city of Istanbul and one of your first observations will be the amount of cats roaming the streets, cafes, waterways, public parks and… well, everywhere else. The city’s human population is 16 million (on both European and Asian sides) whereas the feline population is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. You probably have to witness what we call “Cat City” in person to put the ratio in perspective. If you can’t — and let’s face it, most Westerners haven’t — “Kedi” is a most excellently charming and informative documentary on a most fascinating aspect of one of the world’s oldest historical yet cosmopolitan metropolises. First some background: the majority of cats of Istanbul live in a status that is neither feral nor domestic. Instead they occupy an aspect of city life that is taken as fact in the same way as traffic, trash pickup and public parks. Director Ceyda Torun lived her childhood in Istanbul and has made one of the most unique, loving, non-judgemental, and educational documentaries on the feline species — or any domestic animal — that I’ve ever seen. Her approach seemed simple enough. She watched the interactions of 35 of the city’s uniquely personable felines and those who lovingly care for — and watch over them — before settling on 19 to film and then seven to share their stories in the movie. One of the first things any journalist and/or writer is to “show not tell.” This is where Torun and her team exceed beyond compare. They basically shoot with two POVs, one by a special contraption that allows viewers to see the city from a cat’s eye view, which takes us through winding alleys, under tables and into infinitely small places. The other is by bird’s eye view (i.e. drone), which is meant to obviously contrast but also display the sprawling majesty of The Queen of Cities. (Disclosure: Plutonic creator Michele Hogan has lived there and I visited in 2016). On top of our seven feline stars we are also introduced to some wonderful & utterly compassionate residents of Istanbul whose humanity and heart are bountiful. Not surprisingly a few are artists — whether it be visual art or culinary — and naturally see the world with more intense emotions and feelings. Also, several surround themselves daily with fish and food making felines fast, natural companions. Most heartening, however, might be the tale of a fisherman who fell upon extremely hard times/unlucky circumstances where he lost everything 15 years before the film was made. A cat directed him to a discarded wallet containing enough lira to get his fishing operation back in business.The seven cats are ostensibly the stars of these 80 minutes, some of whose names we learn but all of whom are better remembered by their human traits. So we have The Hustler, The Lover, The Psycho, The Social Butterfly, The Hunter, The Gentleman and The Player.
The humans that tend to the cats aren’t named but are capable of wonderful profundity. There’s a sense of wonder of not knowing the name of a friend of felines who states, “In Istanbul a cat is more than just a cat. The cat embodies the indescribable chaos, the culture and the uniqueness that is Istanbul. Without the cat, Istanbul would lose its soul.” Or, “It’s said that cats are aware of God’s existence, but that dogs are not. Dogs think that people are God but cats don’t. Cats know that people act as middlemen of God’s will.”
Surprisingly and smartly, “Kedi” (Cat) in English stays clear of religion and cultural differences. Suffice to say the cat is seen as a pure and clean creature by Muhammad in the Islamic tradition. It does address rapid urban renewal that can displace humans and felines alike.
If you are a cat lover you will probably want to watch this twice. If you live or have been to Istanbul, you will consider this the “Citizen Kane” of animal documentaries, as Plutonic”s founder Michele has defined it.