Although we live in an age where the internet is probably 15 percent cat videos — and there’s even an Internet Cat Video Festival — there hasn’t been a film about cats quite like Kedi, a unique documentary about the city of Istanbul, its inhabitants and the relation between them and the ancient metropolis’ thousands of street cats.
For cat-lovers, the doc is an easy escape to the cinematic equivalent of a giant cat cafe theme park — one with European-style, street-side restaurants, a gorgeous, glittering Mediterranean harbor and a skyline punctuated by medieval towers, minarets and the glorious Hagia Sophia. Then, of course, there are the cats. So many cats. Too many, really, to keep track of.
Director Ceyda Torun follows a simple formula in introducing her feline subjects. She shows you a singular street cat, and then follows it to trace how the animal affects a particular, unnamed neighborhood, business or individual’s life. In this way, the documentary is an ever-expanding circle — from the cuteness and personality of a cat’s ever-curious face to the eventual impact these uniquely adorable and admirable animals have on the lives of the cat-loving populous.
What the film only hints at — but doesn’t really show — is what must be the obvious, daily problems the cats face. To be sure, to talk too much about how the cute creatures get hit by cars, kill each other or suffer from cancer would take away from the general sunny vibe the documentary continually enforces. Still, there are times when Kedi feels a bit too much like a fairytale. To know more about the work of the vets — which, one restaurant owner says, have running tabs for every person in the neighborhood — would be enlightening.
But perhaps that’s asking for a different film. Kedi’s uniqueness — and it’s really unlike any other animal documentary I can think of — is in its undeniable love of animals. For instance, the film has this one woman who fits the crazy cat lady stereotype, but she rather appears as a matriarch, or guardian angel, to the 60 street cats she cares for, feeding them daily a homemade shredded chicken recipe. While she’s probably the most extreme example of an Istanbul cat enthusiast, there are so many people like her, to various degrees, that you do get the sense this city is an exceptional place, where people consider it their duty to care for their fellow creatures.
To see such kindness, such routine goodwill, is encouraging, delightful, up-lifting. It’s the sort of experience that’ll make you wonder how we, in the Twin Cities, could be better towards the animals of these lake-dappled and tree-stuffed cities. And, of course, Kedi will make you want to book a ticket to Istanbul. What animal-lover, after all, wouldn’t want to spend spring break in the kingdom of cats?
Kedi is playing at the Uptown Theatre.