By: Tyler Obropta, Staff Writer
The worst thing about cat movies is how the entire dog-loving part of the population turns up its nose at them before even giving them a chance.
But Kedi isn’t your ordinary cat movie. For one thing, it’s a documentary set in Istanbul, and for another, it spend plenty of time exploring how these cats interact with the Turkish people in that ancient city and what the feline presence represents.
It beautifully renders the bustling city these cats exist in with graceful, sweeping aerial shots and clever cat POV photography alike. Its passionate interview subjects are keen to analyze the relationship between cats and humans, and the director’s loving portraits of the animals’ lives evoke more warmth and awe than a dozen cat videos on the internet ever could.
And now, to all of those dog people I mentioned earlier, I must begrudgingly admit that yes, the insightful cultural commentary in Kedi often takes a back seat to the cats.
The cats are beautifully filmed by and incredibly active: leaping from trees to balconies, stealing fish and hunting mice. The seven cats at the core of the film have distinct personalities. But as fun and personable as these cats are, the film still regresses to them when there are more interesting topics on the table. It’s that lack of depth that sometimes threatens to undermine Kedi.
If I cared. But Kedi is so artful in its execution, and its feline subjects are so affable and charming that I often forgot to be digging for deeper meaning.
The cultural and philosophical morsels offered by Turkish director Ceyda Torun’s interviews with the locals are tantalizing and diverse. One woman describes how the cats project a fierce femininity, while another man talks about how the thousands of strays that wander the city represent all that stands to be lost by the churning wheel of industrialization and urbanization. The cats are more comfortable outside, we see, scaling trees and doing their business in the dirt on the side of the road. And as the city of Istanbul expands more and more, the cats face a world they can’t possibly exist comfortably in. One of the more memorable moments, however, comes when the owner of the cat Bengü regards his feline friend reclining in a chair and says, “You really know how to live.”
The adventurous lives these cats lead excuse the lack of time spent on that “So what?” question central to every documentary. Who has time to dwell on the meaning of Kedi when they’re watching Gamsiz, the neighborhood player, defend his turf against the ruthless newcomer Ginger? Who has time to think about the lack of nuance when the jealous abusive housewife Psikopat attacks another cat for getting too close to her husband?
Consider the childish, innocent xylophones that play as the cream-colored Sari lithely dances across rooftops, or the slapstick comedy of Aslan Parçasi’s late-night mouse-hunting efforts.
The personality of the film forgives all of its shortcomings, though at least those among us who aren’t so felinely inclined have more meaty themes to grab onto.
But for the rest of us, those restless cat lovers and fans of feline mischief, Kedi supplies all the soul and fun we’ve come to love in those clever, agile animals the film is named for.