By Richard von Busack
Filming cats is likely tougher than herding cats, but Ceyda Torun’s positively enchanting Kedi (Cat) is an intimate portrait of a tribe of Istanbul cats—scads of calicos, gingers and even a few coon-cats escaped from Norse freighters. Kedi is also a look at what’s left of an old city of twisty pedestrian streets, surrounded by an ever-narrowing ring of office towers and skyscrapers. From cat’s-eye camera to drone-view, Torun studies the city at all of its levels.
It’s as if Istanbul were knitted together by the presence of unusually well-fed and well-tolerated municipal cats. They wander in and out at will, pilfering sardines from the waterfront fishmongers, or tangling with the rodents. Bystanders stress the unique personalities of the animals, from angel-with-tail to absolute psychopath.
Supposedly Mohammed’s favorite cat fell asleep on his arm when he was studying, and the prophet cut off his sleeve rather than wake the beast up. We hear about a tradition that cats know about Allah. Dogs think their people are gods, but cats are not fooled by this canine Gnosticism, knowing humans as we are, and looking at us without awe.
These alley cats bring out the philosopher in the people who care for them. One claims that tending a pack of ferals in the rocks by the harbor helped him recover from a breakdown. Another describes a mystical experience: When he needed money, a cat led him to a lost wallet stuffed with the exact sum he needed. At 80 minutes, the city and the cats never get stale. Torun’s marvelous film is capped with a soundtrack of ’60s Turkish rock, as if the cats were living the old hippie dream of life without responsibility and sustenance without work.