Directed By: Ceyda Torun
Cinematography By: Alp Korfali and Charlie Wuppermann
Starring: Sari, Gamsiz, Psikopat, Deniz, Bengu, Aslan Parcasi, Duman
There are two key successes to Ceyda Torun’s Kedi (English translation Cat). The first is its endlessly rich sense of time and place. I have never been to Istanbul, but after seeing Kedi, I might have. The film is a documentary which takes place in the aforementioned city, a dockland area rife with cafés and delis and industrial districts. There is a faint air of melancholy in Torun’s love letter to her home, gesturing that Istanbul’s unique magic will soon be eschewed for a denser metropolis, but never is Torun cynical or bitter. Rather, its affection that soaks the director’s vision. There’s pride in the way she swoons through Istanbul’s bustling cityscape, homing in on the everyday folk who work hard and share in the filmmaker’s passion for their town and its various feline inhabitants, a line of observation that oozes admiration in precisely how straight and unaffected it appears to be. Time and again the director will posit an overhead shot of the city before tracking through it, as if to observe Istanbul just be. The result is a tactile, lived-in portrait.
The other key success is how the director is able to parlay something so apparently small and niche, into a meditation on something grand and accessible; the content transcends the seeming limitations of its premise.
To back track, that premise regards the thousands of street cats that roam Istanbul, sharing the city with their adoring human counterparts who take it upon themselves to care for them. These animals are neither wild nor house bound—they are masterless citizens of Istanbul, embodiments of the city’s chaos and energy, as relayed in an early piece of narration. The pitch alone threatens to be alienating, particularly to those who don’t consider themselves “cat people”, but what Kedi achieves is a certain universality through transitioning the minutia of its feline character’s lives into a series of ponderings on life entire.
The cats themselves are undoubtedly the stars, sauntering through the city with their own daily missions at mind, each tracked at eye level via Alp Korfali and Charlie Wuppermann’s graceful camera work, adopting a close-to-the-ground vantage point. Among the cats: a hustling, do-whatever-it-takes tabby hellbent on providing for her litter; a posh, gentlemanly cat with high tastes, settling only for the finest delicatessen’s foods; and a black and white housewife/thug named Psychopath, a name that is part lovingly attributed, part earned—she keeps her husband firmly under the thumb, or paw as it were, and rules her neighbourhood like Don Fanucci would New York’s Lower East side.
Torun’s film is no mere exploitation of cuteness or animal propaganda however. The cats are as much vehicles for exploration, both spiritual and geographical, as they are cuddly critters. There is a resounding humanism pulsing in Kedi, where the human subjects, in their expressions of admiration for their feline cohabitants, in turn reveal much about themselves; Torun not only muses over Istanbul’s non-human residents, but allows them to offer a conduit into more complex and relatable psychologies.
For one interviewee, cats embody an urbanity and confidence that has been drained from feminine identity; for another, they represent a lost free spiritedness; for another still they typify passion. The overarching offering of these cats, the thread which connects the interviewees however, is their ability to instil affection in the humans they select. Each interviewee, many of whom contending with their own troubles, are enriched by their feline companions simply because they allow them to demonstrate caring and kindness; it’s within this notion that Torun’s focus exceeds the confines of mere cat/human relations and taps into a broader, more fundamental relevance—the riches in demonstrating love. This underlining of affection in turn ushers tones of tranquillity, mirrored in Kira Fontana’s ethereal like score, an elegant blend of soft humming strings and light percussive chimes which cloaks Torun’s kaleidoscopic love letter with a warming soulfulness.
If Kedi has one downfall it’s that it eventually stretches its point. Even at a taut eighty minutes, the film still feels overlong and often repetitive. Never tired though is Torun’s whimsical ability to wring poignancy and surprising beauty from what threatens to be a banal subject. Torun’s affectionate gaze is endlessly luminous. There is no apparent agenda in Kedi, no sense of authorial intrusion. Its speakers cast no expert opinions, nor is there any lecturing involved. Rather, these are common people, speaking freely and spontaneously. The film is simply a snap shot of personalities and place; refreshing in its honesty, charming in its benevolence, and bountiful in its unexpected joys.