Anyone who has been to Istanbul and had not noticed the street cats must have had their eyes closed. The delightful Turkish documentary ” Kedi” makes a case for how the culture of the city is enhanced by roaming cats, and lots of them. Seven cats star ( I wondered why they did not showcase nine), and their close- ups are purr-fectly emblazoned in the lens of cinematographer Charlie Wupperman. His camera follows mostly at the feline’s eye level, but glorious overhead vistas of Bosporus and the Istanbul rooftops give you a sense of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Waterways crystallize and cat eyes mirror the city’s sparkle. Our filmmaker, Ceyda Torun, was born here, and her ode to these masters of the street will keep you smiling.
The cats themselves dart in and out of everyone’s life. As they explore, snatch food, protect their young and bring a sense of freedom to the city dwellers, these cats mirror the soul of this ancient city. Bengu nearly passes out when she is brushed. Her admiring groomer tells us, “Look at her delight. She knows how to live.” Bengu has been near this family for eight or nine years. She has no collar and is free amid the bustle.
Other residents are interviewed informally. One man, who garners peace from his prayer beads, says that “Cats are aware of God’s existence. Dogs think men are the gods.” One woman tells us that she gets a peculiar sense of security when petting a cat. Energy is absorbed and released.
One lion of a cat patrols the harbor. He is a fish thief, preferring bluefish over mackerel or anchovies. One of our stars is the neighborhood psychopath, a rat chaser. None of the cats compromise their freedom. One man states that this is a quality people should have.
We learn that a few residents scatter twenty pounds of chicken a day to feed sixty or so felines. A whole colon mews and follows. Some are feisty and tough, and fun. Many residents find therapy in these cat feedings. Istanbul’s pied pipers don’t capture.
The cat stare can mesmerize. You see the cat, and the cat sees you. Whether on ledges, rooftops, baskets, steps or chairs, the eyes have it. Green, gold, amber or blue the Istanbul street cats are not seen as a problem. Many residents use vets and minister eye drops and plungers of milk to keep healthy colonies. Many, also see the aristocratic, strong-willed felines as cafe cats, charming the tea drinkers with their elegance. Being on the same frequency with them elevates moods and life itself.
One young man tells how upset his Muslim father was when after their viewing the film ” The Good, The Bad , and The Ugly”, he and his brother made tiny crosses for graves at the cat cemetery. They were immediately enrolled in Quran courses! They just thought they were respecting death like in the film.” We weren’t Christian, but we thought they were cool, little crosses.”
“Cats” on Broadway was a hit, and this film about cats in Istanbul will be, too.