“Without the cat, Istanbul would lose part of its soul,” one of the city’s residents advises in the opening minutes of Kedi. His statement may sound like the expectedly fond fawning of a feline fancier; however it is actually a reflection of life at street level in Turkey’s most populous centre. As people go about their days, so does a sizeable contingent of meowing creatures, continuing a tradition of roaming freely through the ancient metropolis that dates back thousands of years.
On the pavement, they scurry in search of food. Loitering outside of cafes, they warm to coffee-sipping clientele. Many stalk around the upper reaches of buildings, staring down at the movement below them. One sleeps on a canvas awning above a fishmonger’s storefront, descending at an opportune moment to battle the birds for scraps. Another keeps a seaside restaurant free from rodents by night, then rests on a rocky platform by the shore by day. Yet another still climbs a tree to access the balcony of an apartment inhabited by another cat. Proving hungry but polite, another paws at the window of a deli looking for gourmet cheese and meat, yet won't enter the premises.
Every animal is an individual, and is treated as such. And just as no tabby's tale is the same as the other selected specimens of its species, neither is the film's approach to Bengü, Deniz, Duman, Gamsiz, Rat Catcher, Yellow and Psycho's stories. As guided by debut feature director Ceyda Torun (short Consuming Love), cinematographers Alp Korfali (Baskin) and Charlie Wuppermann (A Country Called Home) capture the cute, chaotic and curious scenes of cat activity from an array of angles. Sometimes, the crisp imagery peers down from above, or takes a moment to gaze into the faces of the movie's stars. Often, it watches the critters’ fluid movements from a human’s viewpoint — and, just as frequently, it weaves hand-held and cat-mounted cameras underneath tables, up and down walls, and along the ground for a kitty's-eye vantage.
Accordingly, as littered with slivers of historical and cultural information, Kedi strives to capture just what it is like to be one of the thousands of mousers in Istanbul today, particularly as the city endeavours to usher in a new era of redevelopment in areas typically plentiful with furry, four-legged friends. More than that, the documentary imparts an informative, endearing and amusing chronicle of everyday existence for the kindly folks that come into each animal's orbit. And, as the two perspectives combine in every revealing vignette, as perceptively edited together by Mo Stoebe (State of Control) and set to the playful, authentic music of first-time film composer Kira Fontana, they provide a portrait of not only co-existence, but of the bustling locale around them.
Indeed, while many an online clip has demonstrated the instant entertainment that can result from simply pointing a camera in a cat’s direction and watching it go about its daily business, Kedi splices the usual emotional reaction such antics garner with an ethnographic-like mission. Affection radiates from the documentary, but so does an insight into why a purring, prowling kitty can evoke such a response. Though no definitive answer arises, the feature's joyous attitude, relaxed pacing and freewheeling structure offers the closest approximation it can. Yes, Kedi is an unashamed love letter to the compelling creatures at its centre, but, peppered with wisdom and warmth, it's also more than just the ultimate cat video.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5