“Kedi”: a short review

I’ve mentioned the movie “Kedi” several times on this site; it’s an 80-minute documentary about the cats of Istanbul (“kedi” means “cat” in Turkish, and is said to be the origin of the word “kitty”), and was conceived and directed by Ceyda Torun, a woman who grew up in Istanbul and now lives in the U.S. The movie’s website is here, and here’s the official trailer:

The reviews have been almost unanimously favorable; it has a 98% favorable critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes—something almost unheard of for a documentary, especially one about cats.  The reason isn’t the cats; it’s the way the cats, the city, and the people are seamlessly and lovingly amalgamated in the film.

I’ve visited Istanbul three times, and love the city and its people. (What a shame Erdoğan is turning it into an Islamic enclave, but I have hope that Istanbul will remain vibrant and largely secular.) And when you walk around the city, one of the first things you notice, at least if you’re an ailurophile, is that it’s full of street cats—and they’re in good condition. Somebody’s taking care of them! Here are a few photos I took on one visit:

In a mosque. Mosques often harbor many cats because of the legend that Muhammad had a beloved cat, Muezza. I always carry a box of cat food in my backpack when in Istanbul.

 

An out of focus Turkish Van cat; these often have odd colored eyes

How could I not buy a rug from this guy? (I did)


Okay, I overdid it, but you get the idea. “Kedi” is a documentary about the beauty of Istanbul, the diverse lives of its inhabitants (from artists to fishmongers to boatmen to waiters), and how they interact with the street cats. All of them care for the cats and see them as individuals who not only have distinct personalities, but also uniquely embellish their city. The cats, in fact, are treated as fellow citizens of Istanbul. It’s not a smarmy or overly saccharine film, nor does it have much sadness (there’s one bit with an injured kitten); rather, it’s an uncompromising look at the symbiosis between human and cat in a beautiful part of the world.

The inhabitants understand the cats; they know they’re independent, don’t always like affection, but need the humans to help them in a hard and dangerous city. Somehow Torun developed a way of filming from a cat’s sidewalk-level vantage, so you trot along beside the cats as they do their rounds. But there are also aerial views, showing what a lovely and cluttered place Istanbul is, straddling the straits separating Asia from Europe. The humans are eloquent and kind, typical of the people I’ve run into in the city; interviews with cat caretakers are a big part of the film. And overlying the whole documentary is a wonderful sound track that incorporates both pop and classical Turkish music.

Here’s one of my favorites of the seven “stars”: Duman, the polite cat who frequents a deli and gets fancy cheese and meat:

I urge you to see this movie, even if you’re not a huge cat fan. It’s a unique documentary that was filmed with love. That last time I recommended a new film this highly was “Spotlight”, and that one later won the Oscar for best picture. I think “Kedi” has a shot at an Oscar for best documentary—if it qualifies. I can guarantee, though, that you’ll leave the theater happy and with a greater love for both cats and your fellow humans.

Here’s the director; read IndieWire to see how she made Istanbul’s cats into stars.

Ceyda Torun

And the film’s poster:

 

 

26 Comments

  1. BJ
    Posted July 10, 2017 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    “…it has a 98% favorable critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes…”

    Let me guess, there was one dissenting opinion and it was from Armond White 🙂

    I can’t wait to see this!

  2. Randy schenck
    Posted July 10, 2017 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    It is curious the cats are such a part of Istanbul but no other cities in Turkey. I wonder how long it has been like this in Istanbul? I spent some time in Izmire many years ago and did not see anything like this.

  3. Bob Lundgren
    Posted July 10, 2017 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    Ahhh! Thanks for movie recommendation. Going to have to search this out.
    Brings back fond memories of Istanbul, one of my favorite cities. Five or six years ago my wife and I spent a lovely week there. During our first full day wandering through the back streets we found ourselves next to the Sea of Marmara at four in the afternoon. Being jet lagged and hungry at a time when Turks are not hungry we searched for a restaurant and found a nice seafood establishment. The waiter beckoned us to come in and sit down, although it didn’t really seem to be open. Indeed it wasn’t going to be open for another hour, but hospitality rules here and we were warmly welcomed. We were shown to a table by the water and proceded to have a delicious meal and nice conversation with the waiter about Istanbul and American politics. (Why is it that waiters and bartenders in foreign countries seem to know more about American politics that we do?) Since this was all taking place at an odd late afternoon hour the cats were out on other errands. Somehow word got out, though, and one by one cats began ambling along the sea wall toward our table. Six or seven eventually arrived and were very polite. We gave them some morsels and they seemed satisfied. At the end of the meal, to our delight, the waiter took the leftovers from our plates and placed them on a special “table” adjacent to the restaurant where the cats gathered for their own feast. That was our introduction to the cats of Istanbul and it was a very nice one.

    • BJ
      Posted July 10, 2017 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      That. Is. So. Cute.

      I wish I could go to Istanbul, but it’s not a very good idea for me these days.

    • darrelle
      Posted July 11, 2017 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      Sounds like a lovely interlude. Well told too.

  4. Luis Servin
    Posted July 10, 2017 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    This reminds me of a documentary done for the BBC by David Attenborough about the cats around the Torre Argentina ruins in Rome, which double as a car sanctuary, in which he followed a family of cats. It was available as a two part series in YouTube, but it was probably removed. This looks even more interesting!!!

    • Luis Servin
      Posted July 10, 2017 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, cat sanctuary (obviously).

  5. Posted July 10, 2017 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    You can see it (if I read the ad on youtube properly, here:

    Not free (but it may be free if you can select it as part of your free trial of youtube Red).

    One of my daughters is the director of the county’s animal shelter (no-kill) and I see the agonies she goes through listening to the stories every day and caring for sick and dying animals. I have refused to consider watching this movie, so far, because I assumed it would break my heart more. But you have detailed the sadness, so I may get up the courage. It is from a different culture and I am gathering that the Istanbul culture does not denigrate cats.

    Thank you for the review and trailers.

    • Posted July 10, 2017 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      It’s a very upbeat movie; one injured kitten, who may have survived, appears for a few minutes, and that’s it. All good stuff.

      • Posted July 10, 2017 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

        thank you, Jerry. I know I’ll cry, but it should be a short cry and it will end upbeat. But it has to wait. Movies here are 30 miles away. It’ll eventually be on Netflix or Amazon.

  6. Posted July 10, 2017 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    I own a d*g, but will certainly watch this film. Thanks for the recommendation. Also Professor, there’s no need to apologise for your pictures – they’re excellent.

  7. Vaal
    Posted July 10, 2017 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    Somehow, being a participant on this site for years has failed to imbue me with any more fondness for cats.

    Not that I don’t like cats. Just…take ’em or leave ’em. If someone asked me to go out to see a whole movie about cats, I’m afraid I would suddenly find reason to have to clean out the basement that night or some such thing.

    Don’t hate me; I have no choice 😉

  8. Heather Hastie
    Posted July 10, 2017 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    I really want to see this film. In the meantime, I’m going to break the rules:

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 11, 2017 at 3:14 am | Permalink

      11. Thou shalt never hang the toilet roll the way Diana MacPherson does.

  9. Posted July 10, 2017 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    That looks great. I will see if it is playing at my local indie movie theater.one of your picture captions reminded me of a phrasing that often leaves me confused. “How could you not buy a rug from this guy? I did.” You did buy a rug, or you did “not buy” a rug? I’m pretty sure it’s the former, but I’m never 100% sure in these cases.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted July 10, 2017 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

      @pacopicopiedra PCC[e] bought an Anatolian silk rug

      2010: “…The owner of the Troy Rug store has three cats which lounge and sleep on rugs in front of his place. I stopped to pet and photograph them (and, as you can see, to give them a snack), and you know what came next. I returned the next day and, after strenuous bargaining, bought a small Anatolian silk rug woven with animal designs. The owner told me the cats draw in a lot of business!”
      https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/09/14/cat-travel-week-istanbul/

  10. onychomys
    Posted July 10, 2017 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    I find it a little odd that there’s so much phenotypic diversity. When stray dogs breed amongst themselves, they eventually end up looking like dingoes. But these cats are all different colors and hair lengths and ear shapes and all the rest. How is it that they haven’t become, for the lack of a better term, mutts?

  11. Sian Evans
    Posted July 11, 2017 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    A lovely tribute to the human animal bond in a spectacular location.

  12. nay
    Posted July 11, 2017 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    The picture of Ceyda Torun has been posted here before, but I just noticed this – is that a chicken?!

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 11, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      IME most cats don’t bother chickens. I used to have a cat that would climb into the chicken run just to spend time with them.

  13. Posted July 11, 2017 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I saw the poster for this at a local “arts theatre”. (Bytowne Cinema for those who know Ottawa.) Looks like it is still on: http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/kedi


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