Kedi: The Cats of Istanbul

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Kedi (Ceyda Torun, 2017)

Behold, the ultimate culmination of the internet’s craze with cute cat videos. An amusement park specifically built for the new American past-time that has taken over baseball. We’ve seen felines play the keyboard, interact with dogs, failing in the art of jumping, and getting booped on the nose. Now we can interact with them in real life! In Istanbul!

If only interacting with one of Earth’s greatest domesticated creatures was as simple and carefree as we imagine on the internet. Instead, with the documentary Kedi, filmmaker Ceyda Torun examines the complex interaction of cats and humans that has evolved and developed over centuries in the city of Istanbul, and become a relationship of respect and love in equal measure. The film runs through several different “famous” cats in the city and their human friends, all working class individuals who run cafes, markets, hardware stores, and fishing vessels. who develop a neighborlike acquaintance with them. It is clear from the get go that these cats are not pets though they behave in familiar domesticated ways. They are not patronized as playthings. They are truly members of the society and their contributions to the people in the film ranges from simply a source of companionship, to the healing of deep psychological wounds. This idea of feline or canine companionship as a remedy for mental health issues is not new, and it is perhaps a portal into our own fondness for the activity with watching endless streams of kitten and puppy videos on social media. Is it a form of self-medication that we subconsciously engage in?

But let’s not get too bogged down with the weighty issues. Kedi is still overall light-hearted, featuring several sequences of “go-pro” style camera tracking shots that give ground-level point of view shots of the cat’s journey through human-dominated habitats. The film is fun, and it plays perfectly to our unmitigated need to place human characteristics and traits onto non-human animals. A sequence where one of the cats chases after a mouse plays like the tunnel scene from the Harrison Ford movie The Fugitive. The mouse peeks in and out, aware of the cat’s presence but avoiding being seen. It’s thrilling, it’s quirky, it’s exactly the type of thing that gets a million “likes” and “clicks” and “retweets”.

Many of the cats in the film are described with characters you’d see in film archetypes. “The swindler”, “the matriarch”, the “drifter”, the “new kid on the block”. All of these cats may not be any of these things, but an observation of their behavior on a daily basis forces us to relate to them, and because language is a rigid barrier that will never be torn down, our perception of “humanness” is all we have in determining who these fuzzy felines “are”.

*Currently playing at E-Street Cinema in Washington D.C. and possibly other independent cinema’s in your resident city.

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