Year: 2017
Director(s): Ceyda Torun
Writer(s): n/a
Region of Origin: Turkey

Rating: Unrated
Digital, Color, 80 mins

Synopsis: A profile of an ancient city and its unique people, seen through the eyes of the most mysterious and beloved animal humans have ever known, the Cat. (Source)

Thanks to an endless barrage of memes and viral videos, cats rule the internet. They’re funny, wild and have minds of their own – but there’s also a side to them that doesn’t get much play, that of faithful companions, silent observers, and to some, proof of God’s existence. All of these ideas and more, are explored at length in Ceyda Torun’s documentary, Kedi. Torun’s film is a wildly infectious portrait of Istanbul, and its relationship with the countless feline friends who populate its streets. Focusing mostly on strays, Torun finds a vibrancy in the way that these cats come and go, but leave lasting impressions upon those they encounter. The result is an experience that’s profoundly moving, with spiritual overtones that touch upon the very idea of life’s transience and its biggest mysteries. This will be one of the most beautiful documentaries you see all year, and a film that no animal lover can afford to miss.

The film itself focuses on seven cats specifically, each carving out their own lives amidst a bustling city. No two cats are the same, with some being mothers, social butterflies, territorial bruisers, lovers, or even silent protectors who keep company with those who find them therapeutic. Though the film goes pretty deep, it can only scratches the surface, offering a small peak into the lives of animals who’s intricacies can never fully be attained. What we can glean, is that their impact is indisputable, and it’s fascinating to see how their insular lives collide, coexist and converge with a city that is obviously made greater by their presence. Still, there is some concern, with gentrification threatening their way of life, as well as a large population that is outgrowing its means. Despite such consideration, the film remains uplifting, focusing on the cats’ resolve and finding a palpable energy through their vitality. These animals are truly majestic creatures, cute yet regal and thoroughly disarming.

Though cats remain the film’s focal point, they’re really a springboard into the lives of those they touch. “People who don’t love animals, can’t love other people”, says someone early on, hinting at the idea that we’re all connected, and that every living creature has its own role to play in the larger scheme of things. This singular relationship brings to light a spirit of giving and compassion, with some finding it a responsibility to care for these animals, while others credit the cats with healing their broken lives. In one instance, a woman who spends her day feeding upwards of 60 cats all around the neighborhood, while another man, recovering from a mental breakdown, makes rounds around town, caring for and finding peace from feeding another large number of cats. There’s also a popularly-held belief in which the cats absorb negative energies, livening up homes with each visit and giving some a sense of purpose. Another woman, a local artist, even views an elegance and composure in the animals, claiming that their traits are ones she fears are being lost amongst modern femininity. The big takeaway here, is that no matter how you look at it, both the cats and humans of Istanbul enjoy a relationship in which both sides bring out the best in each other.

Really, it should be impossible for anyone to watch Kedi without a huge smile and a heart bursting full of love. Torun’s film is playful and soulful, beautifully shot and offering warmth through keen social implication. You can watch the film and just enjoy the endearing quirks of its furry protagonists, but you’ll be left with a newfound respect for the natural order of things, presenting these lovable animals as the soul of a city with so much to give. The cats of Istanbul are more than just cultural symbols, but an unsaid reminder of life’s rich possibilities and grace. Torun’s film truly feels like a tapestry of what makes life worth living, illustrating the sacred bond between humans and animals in the most invigorating of ways.

SG