Even the most diehard cat lovers likely don’t think of the animals as incarnations of God—unless they live in Istanbul. For her feature debut, Kedi director Ceyda Torun tried to wrangle the herd of cats that freely roam her hometown, focusing on seven that she was told were superstars of the area. The result isn’t an extended YouTube #caturday—well, not completely—but a story of how people and animals connect and the mutual happiness that this connection brings them.
No single person owns and takes care of these street roamers; instead, it takes a village. “Without the cat,” the opening narration tells you, “Istanbul would lose part of its soul.” So even though Torun’s camera stays at cat-level for much of the documentary’s 80 minutes, the city’s residents are an important part of the film, too. And they don’t take their adopted felines lightly: “They absorb all your negative energy,” one woman says. (No one is identified in the doc.) A man says, “People who don’t love animals can’t love people, either.” The cats are compared to children (“People miss their kids, right?”). Others see cats as therapy: One young guy says, “I would have had a very troubled childhood” if he hadn’t started caring for them.
Then there are those who believe that God works through cats, such as the sailor whose ship had sunk, essentially taking with it all the money he had. He heard a cat meowing and leading him to a wallet. And though he ignored it at first, he finally picked up the wallet: He needed 120 lira for something, and in the wallet was that exact amount. “Whoever doesn’t believe this story is a heathen in my book,” he says.
The stories of how various people came to look out for one of the seven cats followed here are charming and often touching, but the kitties take center stage. (After all, Kedi translates to “cat.”) It’s cute to watch each of them wander their turf and display their different personalities and habits, like the one who paws at a restaurant’s window when it’s hungry, with the restaurant owner regarding it as “a cat with manners.” (Otherwise, the street cats are the equivalent of seagulls in terms of harassing people for food.) Or the “neighborhood psychopath” that fights off a cat that dares get close to her “husband.” Each of the stars perform acrobatics to reach various people and places (no #catfail made the cut). And, of course, there’s a lot of curling up for a nap, often high on canopies or ledges.
But despite the film’s short running time, even the most fervid cat lovers may find their attention wandering. Near the end, Torun incorporates wide views of Istanbul that feel meandering, and her slo-mo cat closeups come across as ridiculous glamour shots. These are only quibbles, though. Anyone who buys a ticket for Kediprobably already feels like the woman who lost one of her kitties and talks about the afterlife: “Let’s just say I want to see [the cat] again, not my grandmother.”
Kedi opens Friday at Landmark E Street Cinema.