In Istanbul, cats have been an essential part of the fabric of its communities for thousands of years. There are hundreds of thousands of them roaming free in the city. The new film KEDi is from Turkish director/producer Ceyda Torun. She highlights these animals, and how they exist independently yet often choose to interact with the humans around them, affecting them in deep and meaningful ways. When you imagine mesmerizing online cat videos made classy and educational, then mashed up with a gorgeous geographic documentary on a historic city, you’ll be ready to sit down and absorb this delightful film.
It’s important from the beginning to accept that these cats, roaming citywide, is a dynamic, a relationship between a species and an environment that has a long history. In fact, the cats of Istanbul are treated with a reverence and respect that approaches the sacred cows of India. A number of cats are profiled, as are people who connect with them. There’s Sari, a former slacker who, as a new mother, has become quite a hustler. She is always getting plenty of food for them to share. Bengu is a female cat who lives in an industrial manufacturing neighborhood, and is lovingly cared for by the working men who see her as family. Another cat, Aslan, is a hunter who has earned the eternal gratitude and respect of those in the fish restaurant he guards as champion mouser. Neighborhood psychopath Psikipat is a female cat who terrorizes all the cats around her. One of my favorites is Duman, a gentleman kitty who hangs around a posh restaurant, but never goes inside, and only cues the chef when he’s well and truly hungry. He subsists on fresh Manchego cheese and roast beef.
The love of the people who are interviewed, including one fisherman who is always saving orphaned kittens and nursing them to adulthood, and a man who credits the cats he feeds with saving him after a mental breakdown when nothing else would heal him, is profound. It’s clear, as is the stated intention of director Torun, that the cats of Istanbul are part of what gives the city its soul. The film is in Turkish, but you can hear the passion in their voices, and the translations are often poetic and philosophical. Says one caretaker, “they say God will provide for them and I say, yes, but i’m the middleman.” Another gets even more spiritual and reverent, “It is said that cats are aware of god’s existence but that dogs are not. Dogs think people are God, but cats don’t. Cats know that people act as middlemen to God’s will. They’re not ungrateful, they just know better.”
One of the most interesting aspects of the film is its lyrical quality. It clocks in at an hour and twenty minutes, so those who choose to see it must approach it with a desire to be calmed, and almost lulled into a hypnotic state, as you would when petting a cat. This is aided by the music, as created and arranged by scoring artist Kira Fontana, who is clearly influenced by classical composers John Adams and Steve Reich.
Tranquility and introspection, it would seem, are other goals of KEDi’s filmmakers. There’s a great quote by director Torun:
“In the end, I hope this film makes you feel like you just had a cat snuggle up on your lap
unexpectedly, and purr fervently for a good long time, while allowing you to stroke it gently
along its back; forcing you, simply because you can’t move without letting go of that softness
and warmth, to think about things that you may not have given yourself time to think about in
the busy life you lead, to discuss them with a group of new friends, friends from Istanbul who
tell you what the city is really like.”
If you don’t fall in love with the people of this city by the end of the movie, you’re made of stone. One cat lover mentioned he and all his friends have running tabs with the neighborhood vet from taking care of all the cats that come around. Really, both the humans and the cats of KEDi are pretty compelling arguments, barring increased terrorist activity, to put Istanbul on a list of must-see cities. Obviously those who hate creatures of the feline persuasion should run in the other direction, lest they be seduced to the dark side…which they would be. Those already in the “cult of cats” will, like I do, think KEDi is the cat’s meow.
Playing at Landmark E Street starting February 24th. For other theaters around the country: