So the mere existence of a film such as Ceyda Torun's Kedi is extremely interesting in the sense that cats, in our over-wrought and overloaded information age, with the internet as the fortified haven, seem to be the vanguard of such a realm. Maybe they are the puppet masters, easily controlling the masses by emoting infinite cuteness with just one look towards a camera.
Kedi moves beyond that, sidestepping the mimetic pigeonhole that cats seem to have been placed, restricted within the aspect ration of videos taken from iPhones. If anything, one layer of the film explores our infatuation with cats. It is maybe a reason for you, personally, as to why you find cats so damn adorable that your knees become weak. But, through this exploration, Ceyda applies more layers into her study of cats, and exploration becomes rumination and rumination becomes revelation. A simple premise such as this film is expansive in opportunity. And although one could feel a certain repetition due to its length, the filmmaker makes something very clear by the end: that this cat film is really about people and what they long for, what they seek, and what they find to make them happy. In short, it is unobtrusively a human story.
And you cannot film cats anywhere. No, the place must be Istanbul, where apparently thousands of stray cats live and survive, an urban wildlife of sorts. Although we see hundreds of cats over the course of the film, Torun closely follows the lives of six cats and the humans who associate with them. Each is said to have a distinct personality and, as the camera both observes and even participates in each cats' activities, it becomes surprisingly convincing that these cats are individual and are a product of their own experiences.
Take Psikopat (yes, the name means exactly how it almost sounds), the no bullshit feminine feline who lets no one touch her husband and who gets what she wants. Or Duman, penned as the 'aristocratic,' cat, and the only one with a collar, sits passively under chairs, not wanting to be pet and not snatching customers' food, eventually banging on the glass of his chosen delicatessen when hungry, not even taking on step into the establishment.
This reminds me of one of my cats growing up, named Tigger (a girl). One of the humans interviewed says she has conversations with the cat who always runs around her shop. I have personal experience with this. Written in some imperceptible code of law, Tigger was never allowed on the kitchen counters. Nevertheless, the cat's stubbornness persevered and she always loved jumping up there even when I was sitting right there staring straight into her soul. When she did jump up, I would shout in a signature raspy voice, "Hey!" and she would respond with a brisk, "Meow." A battle of vocal wit commences as we volley our heys and meows back and forth and for quite a while. My initial annoyance of Tigger's defiance whisked away into this proud appreciation with my cat, as if a serenity formed between us through this strange figment of mutual comprehension. Goodness, I miss my cat.
Personal tangent aside, watching Kedi is not just observing the rituals of these cats and their immediate environment, but the people who care for them and confide in them. Of course, we cannot really say how emotional or humanized these cats really are. Some of it are the projections of our fears and desires. I recall the profundity expressed in the naturalistic and slightly sardonic portrayal of people in Errol Morris's Gates of Heaven (one of the greatest films, I might add). The Turkish residents in Kedi find solace, peace, and companionship with the cats even though they are not their pets. In fact, maybe that is what strikes them the most, that, despite their independence, that cats also find some sort of solace with these humans and, like the bizarre mutuality I established with Tigger, an indivisible bond is created between a two species.
Just as enlightening is the romantic portraiture of the city itself. Ceyda grew up in Istanbul and grew up in admiration of the stray cats so Kedi is a pompous love letter to a city that could use some love (every city could use more). Among the incredible architecture, the winding and slanting streets, the busy markets, and the lush Bosphorus Strait, there are the cats that roam, finding a way to live just like every human that roams the cement dominion.
Structurally, although I found the slow pacing peaceful and aligned with its sense of quiet observation, there was a sense of repetitive aimlessness that obscured how or when the film was going to end. It is one of the feelings you get where you sense some sort of finality only to be rejected multiple times as we then focus on another particular cat. If something like this makes you anxious, then it may derail you from contemplation. If you can manage, you might have more fun at this movie than many others currently. It is like a nature documentary, set in a city, that ultimately exposes a human fragility we must acknowledge and appreciate. One of the (human) subjects makes quite possibly the most profound statement of an animal since the aforementioned Morris film: Cats believe in the existence of God. Dogs think humans are God but cats see us as the middleman, they see through us. They know better.