An open, tender-hearted meditation on the relationship between felines and humans, Kedi offers a (literal) cat’s-eye view of Istanbul. Director Ceyda Torun’s roaming camera follows stray cats as they crawl, bound, lounge, sneak, peek, beg, and steal their way through the streets of the Turkish metropolis. Unlike in Europe and America, where strays are rounded up and placed in pounds, Istanbul allows cats to make their homes where they please, relying on the city’s denizens to communally care for them.
Kedi unfolds as a series of profiles of selected cats from around the sprawling metropolis, from Sari, an orange-and-white tabby who hustles for food for her kittens around the touristy Galata Tower, to Psikopat, a ferocious “housewife” in the picturesque Samatya neighborhood who rules her mate with an iron fist. Taken together, these lovely little character sketches suggest an alternate vision of Istanbul, a city within a city whose feline inhabitants often depend on humans even as they are oblivious to our concerns.
This peculiar symbiosis of cats and humans lies at the heart of the film, with each one of its kitty profiles doubling as a case study in the mystery of human-feline relations. One woman who Torun speaks to cares for sick and wounded strays, cooking 20 pounds of a chicken a day to feed over 60 cats. Why does she do it? “I heal my wounds by healing theirs,” she says, echoing a theme heard often in the film. As another interviewee puts it, “Cats [unlike dogs] know that we’re not God. They know we’re just the middlemen.” For Torun, one cares for a cat not because she expects love or adoration in return, but because doing so connects one to something larger and more sacred.
While Torun sometimes indulges in this sort of slightly New Age-y mysticism, Kedi is at its best when she focuses on simple on-the-ground observation: street-level portraits and lingering close-ups. Torun approaches her subjects with a measure of whimsy and admiration that respects these animals without rendering them mere icons. Each cat is a living, breathing creature with its own quirks and foibles and idiosyncrasies—in short, its own identity—and Kedi offers a charming survey of these delightful feline personalities.