KEDI (2017, Ceyda Torun)
Impossible for a cat-lover like me not to at least enjoy sitting in a theater for 80 minutes seeing terrific footage of adorable cats being awesome, but as a piece of documentary filmmaking this is fairly lacking. Why bring up the history of Turkey and Istanbul without showing us any photos, paintings, artifacts, or relics from the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople, or even early 20th century Istanbul, that involve cats? No archival footage, no sketches, stories, no pottery, rugs, etc. One mostly-off-camera subject talks about how cats came to be in the city (working as mice-hunters on ships, then disembarked once they docked in the harbor), but that just calls attention to how little effort was put into gathering any footage for this that isn’t contemporaneous video of cats and people.
Speaking of people, we barely get to know any of them either. There’s a poor fisherman who lost everything he had when his boat sank, and he talks about how cats saved his life, but he’s basically just wallpaper here. Same goes for the shopowner who just smirks at the mother cat that comes by every now and then, or the guy who routinely takes injured cats from the marketplace area to a vet and keeps an open tab. Torun just skates the surface of their lives, leaving it up to them to drop some shallow platitudes about how if people could get along with each other like they get along with cats, it would be a better world.
But what does work about this is the beautiful attention paid to how these cats live. It’s great to see a city where instead of each cat living alone in a house, shitting in a litter box, and staring out a window (like here in Los Angeles; my own apartment building has at least 5 cats in it and none of them have ever seen each other), they freely roam the streets and people just pet them and feed them as they please, then go home while the cats stay transient. And each of them really do have a personality — cat-owners will recognize a bit of their own friends in any number of these characters: the stubborn ones, the affectionate ones, the curious, the sleepy, the spastic, the vane, the wise. Patient camerawork leads to capturing some very nice moments of adorable cat behavior. You’ll smile, even if you’re never enlightened.