‘Kedi’ explores universal values on four paws

Photo courtesy of Kedi

Imagine spending 75 minutes with a population of street cats. This conception could be either a nightmare or a dream, depending on the cats. “Kedi,” a documentary following stray cats in Istanbul, shows that this is a welcome reality for humans.

The film portrays the lives of seven cats and illustrates their personalities, the culture of the city and the kindness of the citizens.

Hundreds of thousands of street cats roam in the city of Istanbul. One man in the film offered a theory as to how the cats came to the city. During the Ottoman Empire, many ships would dock at the ports. The ships had cats to deal with the rats onboard, and as they would dock the cats would wander into the city. After several years, the number of cats roaming around increased. The Ottomans built sewers, and where there are sewers, there will be rats.

Most households employed cats as pest control for the  rats. The reason that cats were never “cleaned up” stems from the past and present heavy Islamic influence in Turkey: cats have a special place in the religion.

Cats are considered very clean and have a huge presence in the literature — many prophets have fond attachments to the animals, and they are heroic in multiple stories. In many ways, the history of Istanbul and the lives of the cats are forever linked.

The cats are  taken care of by the people but also fend for themselves. They are free and yet beholden to their masters – of their own choosing – and lead an alluring lifestyle as they walk in and out of the lives of so many.  Instead of an open tab at a bar, many community members have open tabs at the local
vet offices.

Even though they are loved, a lot of cats do get into trouble. The film showed a few who were caring for stray cats as therapeutic measures. The love that is shown to the felines helps heal both the people and the cats.

“Kedi” presented people with so many different lives — restaurant owners, woodworkers, sailors — feeding and caring for the cats. The cat population is diverse and accepted by many Turkish store keepers and patrons.

Human personalities were reflected within the various cats of the streets. Psikopat, a graceful feline who lives up to her nickname, garners fear in her opponents. She does not shy away from any enemy, be it a canine or pretty feline sniffing around her cat “husband.”

As a gentlemen, Duman frequents a meat and cheese restaurant. He patiently waits on a booth outside and knocks on the window to ask for a meal. One would not see him barge into the store to steal a morsel; he has morals and refined taste.

Gamsız, on the other hand, owns his neighborhood, and is friends with a local baker who has an open tab at the vet for him. Gamsiz is territorial of the nice lady who opens her home to the neighborhood cats and the stone roads that define his home.

The film has the ups and downs of a romantic film, and the audience was emotionally involved in the experience. The movie evoked laughs, gasps and  many “aw”s. The stories of the cats and their caretakers explored the universally relatable dynamic between humans and their beloved animals.

The cinematography accentuated the different perspectives that various species have on city life. Most of the film was captured at typical human level, but some scenes were shot at the level of a cat, tracing their escapades through markets and docks.

Drones were also utilized to shoot sweeping, bird’s eye views of the city and show cats on the rooftops. Many close-ups were used, but at times the shots varied in focus, which was mildly annoying.

The documentary examined social issues like gender discrimination and environmental degradation through the lens of cats. Development in Istanbul affects the intertwined, uncertain fates of cats and people. As skyscrapers go up in the city, the natural habitats of the cats are taken away, and the stores are razed. Even so, the people are more worried about the cats than their own lives.

As one interviewee said, “if one can’t love animals, how can one love humans?” Even these creatures of the street need and want love. This beautifully captivating journey reminds viewers of the essential kindness and mutually beneficial bonds that can occur between species and in any corner of the world.