(Turkey/USA, 79 min.)
Dir. Ceyda Torun
“A cat meowing at your feet, looking up at you, is life smiling at you,” says one of the many affectionate cat people of Kedi. “Those are the moments when we’re lucky they remind us we’re alive.”
Cats and documentaries go hand in hand, as the oeuvre of Chris Marker shows with its feline filmography in which cats inject nine lives into an essay film. They creep into Marker’s frame, receive a considerate pause, or even become subjects of philosophical musings like the narrator’s memorable recollection in Sans Soleil of a woman in Tokyo who salutes her departed friend by saying, “Cat, wherever you are, peace be with you!”
Cat videos might be the most widely-seen ‘documentaries’ these days with viral videos of kitties in action revealing how smartphones and smart felines make filmmakers of us all. Kedi takes the cat movie to another level. This Turkish ‘catumentary’ from director Ceyda Torun dethrones any claim dogs have to being man’s best friend. The doc follows seven cats—Sari, Bengü, Aslan Parçasi, Deniz, Gamsiz, and Duman—around the streets of Istanbul to capture how felines improve the lives of everyone against whom they rub their furry bodies. These seven cats are as warmly comforting and life affirming as a cat curled up on one’s lap.
The cats themselves are wonderful subjects for a film. Each cat is a unique character with a distinct personality. Sari, a cute little orange tabby, is a pro hustler who roams the streets like she owns them. She’s arguably the lead subject of the film and an authoritatively sassy feline. Gamsiz, “The Player,” scraps with the fellow cats in the ’hood and Aslan Parçasi, the black and white hunter, earns his keep at a restaurant in the harbour by keeping the patio clean of vermin. Kedi features some great footage of this mouser hunting rats in the sewer and proving the value of having any cat to keep vermin at bay. Psikopat aka “The Psycho” is a wild and thoroughly entertaining little terror, while Deniz is the city’s social butterfly who frequents the local market, and Benjü “The Lover” displays a belly to be rubbed and relishes every stroke of the brush her caretaker gives. Finally, Duman earns the moniker of “The Gentleman” as he frequents a local bistro wearing his pink collar and respects restaurant etiquette by remaining outdoors. He simply paws at the window whenever he wants a snack, which is often, and frequently earns a healthy reward of manchengo cheese and smoked chicken—better lunch than most humans eat every day!
Torun and cinematographer Charlie Wuppermann shoot these seven felines as they rules the streets of Istanbul and bring a sparkle to various lives. Anyone with a cat and an Instagram account knows how fussy felines are notoriously difficult to direct, so the filmmakers simply let the cats lead the show. They follow the kitties with some fancy handheld camerawork. The ingenious cinematography is as bold as the little cats are as the camera scurries the streets of Istanbul just inches from the ground. Kedi puts moviegoers on the prowl with the stars of the show and is the better for it with this intimate access to the feline.
Kedi suggests that the cat is the true symbol of Turkey and Turks alike and it’s easy to see why. Torun shows how cats in Istanbul roam freely as opposed to the domesticated kitties elsewhere in the world who live mostly in homes with their owners. In Istanbul, however, cats generally don’t take an official owner, but they find a place to call home as they hang around a friendly human who feeds them daily, brushes them, and takes them to the vet. These cats instil a measure of civil responsibility into their owners as the caretakers find the practice of looking after a stray feline a daily act of compassion. Treating an animal is a test of how one treats fellow humans, as one interviewee notes, and Kedi offers a lesson for us all.
The doc argues for the intellectual superiority of cats to dogs. One interviewee says that dogs see owners as gods while cats understand the role humans play as intermediaries to a higher world. Kedi frequently profiles these cats as divine beings whether Torn and Wupperman shoot the cats against the warm sunsets of Istanbul or looking wisely to the heavens. They’re smarter creatures, yet dogs often receive more credit.
Every minute of Kedi is pure joy as the cats lift one’s spirits, offer moments of comedy, and convey the invaluable companionship that feline friends offer the world. Somewhere in documentary heaven, Chris Marker is smiling.
Kedi opens Feb. 17 at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema.