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 Post subject: Ceyda Torun: Kedi (2016)
PostPosted: Fri Feb 10, 2017 9:44 am 
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A city where cats roam free - with plenty of human support

Kedi, pronounced "CHAY-dee," means "cat" in Turkish. Director Ceyda Torun's feature debut, this film tells the story of the hundreds of thousands of cats that can be seen on the streets and along the byways of the Turkish capital, in remarkable harmony with the human population. Torun's unique subject is the cats of Istanbul and their relationship to the city and its people, which seems unique in the world, or at least unusually favorable to cats. The inhabitants of Turkey's largest city have worked out a remarkable compromise for their feline population. They are cared for, yet roam free, but with various "friends" who feed and pet and care for them. This is a charming film that will appeal to the feline race's ardent supporters - and may surprise them.

Kedi does something a documentary should do: it introduces us to a new world. Though there are many (and interesting) people who tell cat stories to the camera, Torun may be inspired a bit by films like Koyaanisqatsi, with her aerial views (drone photography?), droning music, and flowing, repetitive images. But though its photography is nimble and pretty and its subjects endearing, one can't quite class this with the great documentaries. It doesn't quite go deep enough or range wide enough. It shows a few too many sequences of people repeating the same cliches about cats, of cats doing the same things, and it leaves some questions unanswered.

For instance where are they, and does everybody like them? Obviously they thrive on the edge of the port and the edge of restaurants and markets. But are there cat-free zones? How did this unusual situation develop, if anyone knows? What other cities are similar in their feline populations? Are there opponents? Is the local government involved? I've heard Jerusalem has many cats, but they appear more scruffy; it seems Israeli cities aren't so much cat havens as places with "stray cat problems" they've "failed to grapple with." Not the case here. The cats are tirelessly cared for. Several people speak of everybody in the neighborhood having a "tab" at the vet's, and taking favorite felines in to get bites, eye infections, or a rash, and other problems tended to on a regular basis. And with cats that roam outdoors, such things must happen much more often.

Istanbul apparently isn't the only city in Turkey with notable and fortunate cat populations. But these are things the film doesn't tell. Some neighborhoods have a tab at the offices of numerous vets so local residents can take cats in for treatment when they get a rash, an infection, or a wound. Some cats fight over territory. New litters turn up all the time. Nobody seems concerned at the frequent litters. (But some may be; we just don't hear any cat nay-sayers.) This appears to be paradise for cats. Watching this movie is almost as cuddly and nice as petting a cat. But this is not mere cutesiness: its portraits of individual cats are discerning and informative.

Istanbul has come to term in an ideal way, it would seem, with the feline tendency to be independent of an individual master or mistress. They may visit certain houses or a place of business, and show obvious recognition of the people who love them. They may live at an open market or open restaurant or cafe. A neighborhood may take collective responsibility for them. (This is model of civic cooperation.) Several men who fell on hard times or had a nervous breakdown report that feeding them, lots of them, every day, keeps them sane and happy now. It's generally said here as elsewhere that petting and cuddling with cats calms the nerves, makes one happier, and lowers blood pressure. Here in Istanbul, such soothing instant tactile treatment is available around every corner. Psychiatrists, look out.

There is a lot of natural food. One lady feeds 50 cats and cooks up 20 pounds of chicken a day for them; and she is not alone. Many cats come by for food at promising locations where their needs are met. They haunt the fish market or seaside and, of course, are fond of fish.

Many reveal individual traits and personalities and styles. It is in following individual cats that Kedi excels, and in which the cameramen show their determination and skill. Like the independent cats themselves, Kedi's cameramen roam freely. The film soars up above the city with panoramas, and swoops down along cobbled streets or into nooks and crannies following its feline subjects.

Above all the cats of Istanbul till fulfill the old function of protecting a neighborhood or area from rats. (They are believed to have done something like this for the grain silos of the ancient Egyptians.) One of many speakers recounts that since every ship had a cat on board, this has brought many different cat breeds together in the city.

This is a lovely local tone poem to Turkish cats. It's not a world picture, and doesn't attempt to set Istanbul in the framework of other places. Statistics show that the top cat-owning cat countries from first to fifth are the US, China, Russia, Brazil and France. But the free-ranging cats of Istanbul live a different life, arguably more in harmony with their ancient instincts. And it seems to suit them. They appear sleek and healthy, unlike the reportedly scuffy feral cats wandering Jerusalem, for instance. Their fluffy coats attest to the harmony of human and cat populations in Istanbul. This is a city that regards its cat population as an intimate part of its identity, even of its soul.

Kedi ("Cat" in Turkish), 80 mins., debuted at Istanbul Feb. 2016; six other festivals. Oscilloscope Laboratories will release Kedi on Feb. 10 in New York at the Metrograph and Lincoln Plaza Cinema and in Los Angeles Feb. 17 at the Royal, before expanding nationwide over the following weeks. See the appreciative reviews in Variety by Jay Leydon and in Hollywood Reporter by Sheri Lindon. Since NYC opening, Metacritic rating is 82%.


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