Seeing as how all criticism is subjective, I want to start by mentioning that I am wholeheartedly a cat person, and I’m much more of a cat person than I’d ever imagine myself being a documentary person. So a documentary about the cats that roam the streets of Istanbul is exactly the kind that’s made for me. It’s because of this that I suspect anyone’s enjoyment of Kedi will tie directly into their personal interest in felines. Of course, in a mode of filmmaking that almost always focuses on a specific topic, this is going to be the case. Luckily, Kedi isn’t a run-of-the-mill nature documentary, eschewing the Disney approach of having, say, Morgan Freeman talk about giraffes, and manages to broaden its appeal thanks to this. The film is as much about the people and the place of Istanbul as it is the wild cats that walk its streets.
Kedi‘s general structure tells the story of a handful of these felines, who hunt and barge into shops and beg for food, told through the eyes of the people who work and live there in these same neighborhoods. This, thankfully, keeps the animals from being anthropomorphized by a faceless narrator. The cats, we’re told, have been a feature on the streets of Istanbul since the reign of the Ottomans, so there’s a sense of tradition and normality to it all, as strange as it might seem to us. And as unruly as the cats can be — they bust into businesses and apartments looking for food or affection — there are people around who feed them and take them to the vet. Some do it begrudgingly, while some, like one fisherman, feed whole litters of orphaned kittens as repayment for what he describes as a mystical encounter with a cat years earlier. Much of the film takes on a vaguely (though never overwhelming) philosophical tone, as the people who populate the film discuss these cats and how they, themselves, relate to them on personal levels. Here, Kedi turns into a movie about finding one’s humanity through animals.
Of course, beyond this, the real appeal of the movie are the cats and their idiosyncrasies. One bangs on a restaurant window demanding his daily portion of Manchego and turkey; another hunts mice outside a seaside restaurant. They’re each distinct and different. While even at a tight 80 minutes, Kedi‘s wistfulness can feel a bit repetitive, luckily, the film’s quiet charms, from its cast of characters to its bursts of Turkish pop music, make up for these small shortcomings. I can’t quite call Kedi a great film, but it’s enjoyable and quaint — and sometimes that’s enough. Not Rated. Now Playing at Grail Moviehouse.