“Without the cat, Istanbul would lose a part of its soul”
Whether loved or loathed, the thousands of cats that roam the streets of Istanbul are as tethered to the city’s landscape as its historic Blue Mosque. Fortunately, Ceyda Torun’s heart-warming documentary proves that affection far outweighs animosity and that these street cats have touched the lives of people from all walks of life, whose unconditional love for their feline friends is life-affirming and inspirational.
While many furry faces make an appearance throughout the film, the spotlight is held on seven cats in particular that dart in and out of people’s lives, all with a unique personality and a story to tell. Whether it’s Deniz, the tough foe-turned-friend who parades around the outdoor market, or Psikopat, the jealous and protective ‘wife’ who isn’t afraid to unleash her claws, it’s easy to be drawn into each of their worlds if only for a short while. Rather than conducting traditional talking head-style interviews, Torun films a diverse group of people in their work, home and leisure environments as they interact with the cats and share anecdotes. For many, the feline-human connection is deeply personal and goes beyond standard companionship. The cats are likened to superheroes, having helped one man recover after suffering a nervous breakdown and having saved another from a troubled childhood. To one woman, providing food and water to dozens of cats both in her home and on the street is a form of therapy: “My therapist says that I try to heal my own wounds by healing theirs” she says, as she prepares their morning meal. The people of Istanbul go above and beyond to keep the cats safe and healthy, taking them to the vets and even administering medication when needed – the expenses for which most often come out of their own pockets. It’s a relationship founded on mutual respect and affection, with no expectation. Torun’s approach to film-making also manifests these very qualities; the cats are observed from a distance that’s neither intrusive nor impersonal, with a camera that is often held low to the ground so that we are fully immersed in their perspective. Occasional close-ups linger on feline faces that stare directly into the camera, their gazes penetrating all boundaries of time and space in a way that echoes one woman’s sentiment that humans and cats can communicate despite their physical differences. This philosophy is the crux of Torun’s mission statement, as she wants viewers to not only re-evaluate their attitudes towards cats, but also towards each other because we have more in common than we might believe.
While the street cats remain at the heart of Torun’s work, the film does offer glimpses into daily (human) life in Istanbul: birds-eye views of the city are interspersed among shots of people painting, fishing, and drinking traditional Turkish tea. The director doesn’t observe her hometown through rose-tinted glasses, however, as the film also briefly touches on some of its social issues, such as the position of women in society and the destruction of green spaces to make room for infrastructure.
More than just a documentary on cats, Kedi is a celebration of life in its many forms and a masterclass in how humans and animals can co-exist peacefully and altruistically. It radiates so much love that even the staunchest cat sceptic is bound to be converted to a friend of the felines by the time the credits roll.
By Holly Weaver
Holly Weaver is currently studying French and Spanish at the University of Leeds, and has spent her year abroad studying film in Montréal. An old soul, she is enraptured by pre-1960s cinema and some of her favourite films include Singin’ in the Rain, City Lights and The Crime of Monsieur Lange. Her life ambition is to dress like Phillip “Duckie” Dale from Pretty in Pink, her one true style icon. You can find her tweeting and letterboxd’ing at @drivermiller.