Released 2016. Director: Ceyda Torun
SOMEONE IN THIS DOCUMENTARY COMMENTS that whilst dogs think humans are gods, cats know we’re not. I don’t believe animals have the same notion of divinity as humans do. But it says a lot that cats are regarded as more perceptive and intelligent than dogs. Cat owners will tell you that cats generally do not care if you think they know what you think they know or not know. You never know for sure. One thing for sure is cats are subtly the masters of their households. Any cat owner will testify to that.
Kedi is Turkish for cat and this short, sweet and thoroughly engaging documentary is set in Istanbul. Cats without owners roam the streets in the city but they are not really stray or feral. Not only do they have their own turf, these cats also lay claims to their own humans they have chosen, eat from their hands and behave like their pets but remain their own owners as they come and go as they please.
There are patterns of recognisable behaviours in the cats featured. There’s the mother cat who brings food given her back to her kittens. There’s the one who climbs a tree to get inside a woman’s house to eat and boss the other cat. There’s the one who lives at a restaurant by the sea keeping the mice population under control. There’s the one who treats every market stall as his day bed. My favourite is the one who waits by the door of a restaurant, pawing at the window to signal he’s hungry but too much a gentleman to enter the premises even if the door is open.
We hear from an assortment of Istanbulites whose lives cross paths with these cats on a daily basis. They feed the cats, pat them, care for them. But they are not conventional pet owners in the sense we usually understand the word. The cats visit these individuals, some even live on their premises, adopting the humans as “theirs”. Though aloof, as they naturally are, the cats show a loyalty to the people they have chosen yet maintaining their own freedom.
What emerges from this documentary is a 90-minute depiction of affection and connection between two species. You could feel the warm feelings in their voices and see in their eyes when the two-legged species is talking about their four-legged friends. One of these men has been going around the streets of Istanbul every day for years carrying bags of food to feed the cats who have come to recognise him. It’s a therapy, as he explains, for the body and the mind. Similarly, another man believes his life would have been worse off if it wasn’t for a cat that came into his life.
The life of these cats are captured in incredible photography, much of which shot shin-level as viewed by cats. The shots are beautiful, graceful and the subjects are surprisingly unperturbed at all. The aerial shots of Istanbul are just as captivating, looking down at a zig-zagging streetscape of terra-cotta rooftops and the abundant activities teeming within.
As much as it is about furry felines, Kedi is ultimately just as passionate about people. As these cat lovers start to share their stories, it is revealing what the cats bring out in them. It’s not a stretch to state they believe they are better people because of their relationship with the cats. These are people who bring stray cats to the vets who, apparently, have a running tab because Istanbulites genuinely care for the cats that share their city. If cats really have nine lives, one of which should be lived in Istanbul.