Arts & Culture

Wayland ‘18.5: In “Kedi,” cats charm viewers and locals alike

By
Arts and Culture Critic
Thursday, April 6, 2017

“Kedi” is not your standard fare of catnip. Known to American audiences as “Nine Lives: Cats in Istanbul,” Director Ceyda Torun’s documentary follows the thousands of felines who roam Istanbul’s busy streets. Playing at Avon Cinema until Thursday, “Kedi” quietly charms in its meditation on a city and the species at its spiritual center.

Vagrant cats dominate Istanbul’s urban landscape, saturating the city’s negative spaces with life. And yet, to call the cats “strays” would dishonor the intricate bonds formed between these creatures and their human neighbors. Indeed, Torun’s documentary succeeds in large part because it never neglects the human elements of its story, granting as much attention to the voices and narratives of people as to the cats that flit in and out of their lives.

The cats are ephemeral in presence only — they leave enduring impressions upon the souls of those they touch. Told in series of modest vignettes, “Kedi” lets local residents breathe life into the adventures of their feline friends, lending a folksy authenticity that feels neither forced nor pretentious. The documentary draws primarily from inhabitants of the city’s less-urbanized quarters, cataloguing the interplay between fishermen and shopkeepers and the cats they feed, shelter and love. In their narration, the locals exhibit a desperate need to ascribe human qualities to their animal counterparts, making claims about shared dialogues and communal frequencies.

“Kedi” indulges these perspectives, and cynics are gifted plenty of fodder with which to disparage the documentary’s philosophical stretches. While one resident extolled the virtues of the local feline population for restoring the city’s “joy for life” and “fading sense of humor,” one could almost hear skeptics pooh-poohing such classic European pseudo-intellectual extravagances. And yet, such is the purity of “Kedi” that it’s impossible not to indulge in the local’s belief. The film captures the cats in moments that perfectly reinforce the narration of their human friends — at times mischievous, timid, ambitious and carefree, the cats reflect the full tableau of the human condition.

Torun’s camera moves with feline-inspired grace, gliding at floor-level through the city’s tight corridors. “Kedi” penetrates the private spaces to which the cats retreat — cupboard shelves and dock-side ice boxes teem with newborn kittens, providing little glimpses of life that feel both stolen and sacred. Wider shots frame single cats against the massive backdrop of the city, beautiful landscapes rendered both absurd and sublime by the presence of a feline Easter egg. In Torun’s camera, the cats are, at once, central actors and bit players in the urban theater.

What ultimately emerges from “Kedi” is a pervading sense that the cats provide meaning to the lives of the residents. The documentary casually exposes the interactions between humans and cats as sites of therapeutic rhythm. One man describes having a prolonged mental breakdown years ago, before finding healing in the daily repetition of feeding hundreds of street cats. While his case proves more extreme than most in “Kedi,” nearly every local describes the existence of a restorative connective tissue between human and feline. As one resident says, “a cat meowing at your feet looking up at you, those are the moments we are lucky. They remind us that we are alive.” At its heart, “Kedi” reminds us to look for the beauty in the life around us — even the life at our feet.

Daniel Wayland ’18.5 can be reached at daniel_wayland@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.