What kind of artistry does it take to make a film about cats in the city mesmerizing? The brilliant, sharp photography of this documentary by Ceyda Torun and her team makes the cats in Istanbul and the people who care for them come alive with their warmth and mutual regard for one another. It’s a fascinating, sometimes humorous, photographic tour of everyday life in the city. In talking about their love for their cats, citizens wax eloquent about the importance of the animals in their lives. Significantly, many see the creatures as therapeutic and making a real contribution to the character of Istanbul. The narrator says early on, “In Istanbul, the cat is more than just a cat. The cat embodies the indescribable chaos, the culture, and the uniqueness that is the essence of Istanbul.”
We hear from artists, shopkeepers, fisherman, and housewives about their special connections with the cats. They talk to them, establish relationships with them, and a cat can remain with the same family for years. One touching story is about a fisherman who lost his boat, and a cat’s guidance helped restore what was lost. Ever since, he has tended to cats, which are sometimes dropped off at his doorstep with the knowledge that he will take care of them, even small kittens without a mother. Another surprising story is about a man who started feeding cats after a nervous breakdown. He feels that this healed him more than any drugs he was given.
And cats do their part by taking care of invading mice and rats, bringing comfort to their humans, and entertaining them, although many humans don’t expect reciprocity necessarily. Once cats get satisfied, they don’t ask for more—unlike humans, one woman says. “All cats are different, just like people”, observes one woman; and they have personality quirks that distinguish them. They will fight each other for dominance in the neighborhood, and they always remember someone they’ve made a connection with. One ultra polite cat stays outside a café, patting on the window with its paw to signal it wants food. It never tries to go inside the restaurant or take food that is not offered. It only likes to be around people; not other cats. Many people feel duty-bound to tend to the cats, such as bringing them food every day, taking them to the vet, and allowing them to come into their homes. It’s noted that this is up to the citizens because the city takes no responsibility for the animals.
Director Torun grew up in Istanbul and became familiar with the animals as a child, so much so that the cats were her only friends for a long time. Kedi is her way of acknowledging their importance to her and her gratefulness to them. She is married to Charlie Wupperman, co-producer and cinematographer of the film with Alp Korfali. The concerted efforts of the filmmakers to track the animals they were interested in and be available for hours at a time in any place they were expected to be took patience, heroic efforts, and a great deal of communication with the people they interviewed.
The result is a most extraordinary film in its beauty, coherence, and novelty.
You don’t need to be a cat lover to take pleasure and delight in this documentary.