For centuries, the streets of Istanbul have offered a home to hundreds and thousands of feral cats. Following a wily cast of notorious felines and the locals who care for them, this documentary explores how these whiskered residents have shaped the rapidly changing metropolis they live in.
To connoisseurs of the internet’s sprawling continent of adorable cat videos, the mere mention of this documentary’s basic premise will probably be more than enough to have them desperately handing over their money. For two months, Turkish director Ceyda Torun and her cinematographer husband Charlie Wuppermann turned their cameras on some of the thousands of feral cats that have lived happily on the streets of what is now Istanbul since the days of the Ottoman Empire.
However, while Kedi (which means “cat” in Turkish) delivers on its promise of providing amusing feline footage — cats snoozing contentedly on terrifyingly high window ledges, kittens scrapping in roadside cardboard boxes, one bewildered moggy being beaten to a pile of fish scraps by a gang of bullying seagulls — it deftly goes beyond that and offers eloquent insights into the modern city, animals, humans and the relationship between all three.
Torun’s sharp eye for characterisation helps. Through the mere act of following cats into the city’s nooks and crannies she assembles a diverse cast of cats ranging from Sari — the notorious cafe irritant who we discover is actually hoarding food for a litter of kittens — to Psikopat, the alpha female feared by whiskered rivals and dogs alike.
These street cats — who purportedly arrived in the city after working as rat-catchers on ancient ships — hold a special place in the heart of Istanbul’s residents and the fond, soulful testimonies of the locals who tolerate, feed and care for these sacred strays are funny and profound. Whether you’re a cat-obsessive or not, you’ll have to be made of strong stuff to not be affected by the sight of a burly, moustachioed man weeping over the wounded kitten in his palm. Yes, it’s a slight affair and there’s repetition in later scenes. But it’s a subtly affecting, wildly original achievement.
Part wildlife documentary, part urban love letter. Kedi may only be a slender 79 minutes long, but it’s a lyrical and surprising philosophical tribute to the therapeutic power of pets.