Directed by Ceyda Torun
Like anyone who read its IMDb synopsis might, I walked into “Kedi” thinking it was a documentary about street cats in Istanbul. But Ceyda Torun, in her directorial debut, actually crafts a beautiful piece of cinema that uses stray cats as a reflection not only of the Turkish people but humanity in full. As one interviewee put it, cats are part of the soul of Istanbul. They have been living there for thousands of years, walking off ships and left to reproduce and fend for themselves and their children in the major seaport city. And they do—all sorts of cats, raising kittens and finding food. Some hunt for rats on their own, to the happiness of restaurant and shop owners once plagued by the vermin. Others—many, many others—rely on the kindness and selflessness of fishermen, cooks, and normal, everyday Turks willing to spare a bite of their food—or in some cases, a lot of it—to feed the cats that share their city. That’s the soul of “Kedi,” really. The altruism of normal people, telling about how the cats have changed their lives and how they feel a debt of honor, a higher calling, to give back to the cats.
Cats are examined in nearly every way in which they reflect the people of Istanbul—cats as friends, as hunters, as sources of therapy, as reminders of mortality, as graceful females in a country where being a bold woman is looked down upon. You quickly learn that this Istanbul street cat documentary is not nearly as narrowly focused as you thought it would be. But it knows when it has nothing left to say—after an interesting 90 minutes that never loses focus and always stays engaging, “Kedi” puts a cap on it.
While its range of focus might be unexpected, it’s certainly no surprise that it’s the most adorable documentary you’ll see this year. “Kedi” has cuteness in excess. It’s the closest thing to pure, unadulterated joy that’s ever been shown on screen. The cats, obviously—a variety of play things and stubborn fighters, purring kittens and stoic roof-walkers. But also the people. Every one of them with something profoundly interesting and thought-provoking to say, and most of them charmingly humorous, too. It’s as if everyone is in some enlightened state that those of us without the joy of street cats could never reach. Their message of unconditional love for all of God’s creatures is one we should all take to heart. It’s enough to make a dog person a cat lover and a cat lover melt in their seats with delight.