Review

Cats and the city: 'Kedi' investigates the feline lives of Istanbul

“Kedi” means cat in Turkish. And while you don’t have to be crazy about cats to enjoy this documentary, it would certainly help.

 As that Turkish title indicates, “Kedi” is shot on the streets of modern Istanbul, with director Ceyda Torun, who was born in the city, and her intrepid cameraman and co-producer, Charlie Wuppermann, investigating the antics of half a dozen or so frisky felines.

Street cats, unowned and on their own, have been a feature of Istanbul life for uncounted centuries, and according to “Kedi” their presence “embodies the indescribable chaos, the culture and the uniqueness that is the essence of Istanbul. Without them, the city would lose part of its soul.”

Torun intended the film as “a love letter to those cats and the city.” And one of “Kedi’s” virtues is the picture it provides of modern Istanbul, giving us a dawn-to-dusk tour of the metropolis and showing us neighborhoods that feel very much like the real, everyday Istanbul, not the tourist mecca we usually see.

Mostly, though, we see cats, engaging in all manner of species-appropriate activities: running, foraging, harassing mice, crawling in and out of tight spaces, accessing inaccessible ledges, taking cat naps, engaging in cat fights, etc.

Though Wupperman, who filmed in Istanbul for two months, has done a remarkable job getting down to cat level and following the animals around, even using a bit of infra-red technology to follow one cat on the hunt for a mouse, unless you are a devoted feline fancier the film’s brief 79-minute length will not seem too short.

Adding interest are the humans who, for a variety of reasons, both respect and look after these animals, giving them their freedom but helping to ensure that they don’t starve to death.

One woman admires cats because “they have the femininity that women have lost,” while another says that a relationship with a cat is like “being friends with an alien.”

One man says that “people who don’t love animals can’t love people either,” while another tells an elaborate story of how a cat guided him to a lost wallet with just the amount of money he needed for an essential repair.

Perhaps the most interesting response to cats was a theological one, with one person offering the following analysis:

“Dogs think people are God, but cats don’t. Cats are aware of God’s existence. Cats know that people act as middlemen to God’s will. They’re not ungrateful, they just know better.”

Though all the cats have names, and some even get flattering close-ups, the truth is that despite the protestations of the humans who insist each particular animal has a distinctive personality, on camera they all tend to run together after awhile.

By the time “Kedi” puts these animals through their paces, only one essential question remains unanswered: Will the dogs of the Dardanelles demand equal exposure? This could be a trend.

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‘Kedi’

Not rated.

Running time: 1 hour, 19 minutes

Playing: Arclight Hollywood; Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles, Playhouse, Pasadena, Town Center, Encino, University Town Center, Irvine

 

    

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kenneth.turan@latimes.com

@KennethTuran

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