It’s hard to say whether Ceyda Torun’s delightful and visually splendid Kedi is a documentary about Istanbul, with cats, or a documentary about cats that happens to be set in Istanbul. Making that distinction is probably as useless as trying to parse the blurred tones on a tabby’s belly. If Kedi is any sort of anthropological examination of the life of a city, it works because its vision is filtered through the lazy-looking but in fact hyper-aware eyes of our feline compatriots. They always see things we can’t. In turning our gaze toward them, we learn deep truths about ourselves. Meanwhile, their lives go on, their brains whirring with thoughts like “What is that guy doing on my turf?” “I’d like a nice piece of fish right now,” and “Where’s a good spot to have kittens?”
We see cats thinking all of those things, and more, in Kedi—which means cat, in Turkish. The picture’s pleasures are bountiful, particularly for cat lovers: We meet café and store cats, dockside cats, cats who refuse to belong to one particular home or establishment but instead rule over a whole street. One beloved local character is characterized by an admiring human as “the neighborhood psychopath.” Then we see her, a nondescript-looking black-and-white female. But her fans have taken careful, affectionate notes on her many personality quirks: She is also, we learn, a fish thief and a chaser of dogs (even pit bulls).
There are cats sleeping obliviously on unnervingly high-up ledges; cats padding across corrugated rusty-red roofs; cats just hanging out in doorways, their ears barely twitching as nearby humans extol their virtues. The city itself, as filmed by Torun, looks warm and inviting, a paradise of ochers and soft, weather-worn blues. It’s a civilized, friendly place, hospitable to cats and thus well suited to humans as well. We see citizens responding to creatures in need: An older gent cradles a tiny, seemingly lifeless kitten all the way to a local vet’s office. A man who lives mostly on a boat stops ashore to feed a litter of orphaned kittens with an eyedropper. A baker goes about his daily business, creating homey-looking pastries that you’ll wish you could eat immediately, while explaining how much his store cat enriches his life and the neighborhood. The cat recently needed medical care. “We all have a running tab at the vet,” he says with a shrug.
In all great cities, the magnificent intersects with the mundane—that’s what makes them not only livable but vital. The cats of Kedi tell that story, in between naps. They know a good place when they’ve found it.