Directed by Ceyda Torun
Opens February 10 at the Metrograph
Sorry, but I can’t imagine anything I’d less like to watch 80 minutes of than strangers talking about their pets. Kedi, a documentary about Istanbul’s ubiquitous street cats, indulges in the same sort of presumption which, in a Facebook friend, would drive you to unfollow their feed, as citydwellers hold forth on the alleged personalities of the feral felines who add character to their streetscape. But none of the human subjects hold the frame for long, and all of them—from bakery owners and tattooed artists to day laborers and market stall owners—present enlivening views of Istanbul, the film’s true subject, especially if you hate cats.
Essentially, Kedi is a city symphony, arranged for a tiny meowing orchestra. Istanbul’s thousands of cats roam its streets, more or less freely, sleeping in crates or high up on tiled rooftops overlooking the Bosphorus; we see them cared for casually, conscientiously and collectively, from the scrappy fisherman who feeds a new litter of kittens, smaller than his gnarled hands, with milk from a syringe; to the waiter at an upscale café in a gentrified area, who slices up Emmenthaler for the picky cat that comes by every day to swat angrily at the window.
Profiling the cats and their people, director Ceyda Torun—making her feature-film debut—crisscrosses the city, from harbor to garage to street fair and waterside restaurant, frequently tracking along the sidewalk at shin height in follow shots and mocked-up POVs, like the Dardennes gone GoPro, essentially rescaling the city to a street-level perspective. Aerial views, which give a more familiar view of Istanbul’s architecture, are a nice contrast to the literally granular cat’s-eye perspective, and give context to the socioeconomic cross-section Torun assembles as her spotlight scurries from neighborhood to neighborhood.
The cats themselves don’t do anything that would go particularly viral if made into a .gif or Vine (RIP), though they chase mice and arch backs at one another and climb trees and basically act like cats, which is fine, I guess, especially if you like cats. But most of all Kedi shows us the life of an urban environment through the varied people who engage with its unique version of the commons.