Istanbul has thousands of street cats, and according to Ceyda Torun’s film Kedi, this has been the case for thousands of years. Cats have watched empires rise and fall, the narration tells us; the film shows us how they’ve adapted to modern life with a combination of feline ingenuity and serene indifference to any obstacles that get in their way. Cats, the filmmaker argues, are integral to the life of Istanbul.
Kedi is the story of seven cats and the humans who care for them: Sari, the intrepid scrounger; Duman, the gentleman; Bengü, the lover; Aslan Parçasi, the hunter; Gamsız, the neighborhood boss; Psikopat, the psychopath; and Deniz, the market’s young mascot. Be warned, they’re all cute–even the weird mean one. We watch Sari prowl her block, bringing home food for her kittens; Duman politely begging at a restaurant window, waiting patiently for his gourmet snacks; Bengü make the rounds of the humans who love and indulge him; Aslan earn his keep as a mouser; Gamsiz rule his kingdom (and other cats) with not-so-gentle firmness; Psikopat boss her partner and other cats around; and Deniz, lovable food thief and all-around prankster, frolick through a farmers market.
Just as endearing are the humans in these cats’ lives. They love the cats, sure, but they’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about the cats’ behavior, and nature, and cats’ place in both the lives of humans and the cosmic order of the universe. It’s good talk, too.
Strikingly, the film celebrates a philosophy about cats and society that’s the polar opposite of contemporary American thinking and policy. In the film’s Istanbul, stray cats aren’t a “problem” to be “managed.” They’re your neighbors. You feed them if you can, but you don’t try to make them stay indoors, or get them “fixed,” or otherwise domesticate them any more than they already are. It’s sad when they get hit by a car, but that’s life.
I can’t think of a single American animal advocacy organization that would endorse this film’s view.
And so the cats are also our guides to sprawling Istanbul, a port city of fish markets, glamorous restaurants, giant warehouses, quiet neighborhoods both rich and poor–and gleaming new office buildings that threaten longtime residential areas. You begin to realize that Kedi isn’t just advocating for these cats; it’s advocating for us. (It’s not a political film, but the English graffiti “Erdo-Gone!” was hard to miss.) The fact that cats couldn’t live this way in most American towns and cities isn’t exactly cheering.
Kedi, directed by Ceyda Torun, released by Oscilloscope Laboratories