Film Review: Kedi by Cedya Torun
This eccentric and winsome documentary about the street cats in Istanbul is exactly the antidote to the disturbing moment we are living through and the existential angst, which so many of us are experiencing. It is an exploration of the street feline population that has been an integral part of the cityscape of Istanbul since the Ottoman Empire. It is a wonderful way to explore an ancient, magnificent, and mysterious city as well as an up close and personal encounter with regular citizens who live and work there, in a way not usually available to most travelers. There is an element of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown series.
For a film, this irresistible combonation of setting and characters eliminates the need for plot or storyline. Rather, we are presented with a series of sketches. The cats, who all have names, are the stars, and the humans the supporting actors. What unifies the whole picture is the love, respect and genuine appreciation that the human population has for their four-legged citizenry. There is an implicit mutuality between the species and rampant anthropomorphizing on the part of many of the humans.
One of my favorite quotes from one of the locals is: “Cats know there is a God and humans are just an intermediary. Dogs think that humans are God.” There is another who absolutely credits the reversal of a catastrophic misfortune to a cat and has dedicated himself to taking care of abandoned kittens as an act of gratitude. There are those who believe that cats help absorb negativity and hostility from humans. Also the hard-to dispute feeling that merely petting cats who are so demonstrative in their enjoyment returns psychic benefits to the giver.
There is a woman who suffered severe illness and spends her mornings cooking enough food to feed dozens of cats each day and then spends the rest of her time delivering it to high-population areas of town where the cats know she is coming and are there to greet her. This is part of her healing process (A Feline City Meals-on-Wheels). She reminds me of those eccentric, usually older, folks in NYC who feel the same kind of empathy for pigeons, whom most in Manhattan regard as an annoying nuisance. But I believe that they have a point.
I think there are some lessons and universal truths to be gleaned from this charming and pleasurable film. They have to do with acceptance, tolerance, kindness and sharing. We all have just one planet to live on and why not make it as harmonious as possible? No need to demonize the other. Try a little tenderness.
The filmmakers have done something pretty remarkable in making the film. Charlie Wupperman has made it feel as if there is a steadicam attached to one of the cats (unlikely) or that the cats are trained (impossible). About half of the film is shot from cat’s-eye level. There are also lots of beautiful drone shots showing aerial views of the ancient and densely populated city. The juxtaposition of angles creates a rich tapestry, which is both pleasurable and compelling.