Big cities in the warmer latitudes–Rome and Athens come to mind–all seem to have their cadres of “street cats”: not-quite-feral felines who get by with occasional help from their human friends.
But no city I’m aware of has the kind of street cats, and their relationship with people, that Istanbul has, as Istanbul native director Ceyda Torun beautifully illustrates in her feature-length documentary, “KEDi” (“cat” in Turkish).
In Istanbul, the cats are, as one resident puts it, “a part of everyone’s life” with names and personalities. Director Torun and German-born cinematographer Charlie Wuppermann follow some seven of them together with the humans who help take care of them. These Turkish kitties aren’t the gaunt, spooked strays of other cities; they’re glossy, well-fed, and friendly, allowing themselves to be petted and cuddled, and sometimes even sneaking into people’s apartments. “The love of animals is a different kind of love,” says one fan. “Cats are very different from us, yet we’re able to have a relationship with them.”
Part travelogue, part love story, Torun and Wuppermann devote sections of the film to individual cats and their neighborhoods. Between segments, the camera zooms over the city–even with its current 20 million human inhabitants, it’s so gorgeous that I’m ready to pack my bags and get on a plane–and concentrates on one cat and its people.
And these people aren’t confirmed cat ladies (like me); they include dock workers, market stall holders, artists, cafe owners, fishermen. The cats keep the sewer rat population under control and keep the mice away from the market stalls. In exchange, they get fish, market left-overs, and other goodies, such as cat kibble. A pastor feeds an abandoned kitten. A painter allows a cat to visit her studio. A man administers antibiotic drops to a kitten with an infected eye–the cats’ friends contribute to keeping a running tab at the vet’s. One man says that feeding a colony of cats has cured him of a nervous breakdown.
Some of the shots are taken at cat’s-eye-level; others show cats making breathtaking aerobic leaps from a tree to a building ledge. A fight between two rival cats, two kittens wrestling–these are some of the exquisitely shot and edited passages in this love song to a city and its non-human inhabitants.