If I correctly recall whatever cat domestication lore I’ve absorbed over the years, the creatures we now sometimes refer to as “house cats” were tolerated because they were quite useful. Cats, for instance, would keep rodents away from granaries. They were cared for by humans, but not coddled, maintaining a certain measure of independence. The street cats of Istanbul, who would probably be considered an animal-control problem in the United States, are, in a sense, throwbacks to those ancients.
“Kedi” (“Feline”), a frequently enchanting documentary directed by Ceyda Torun, showcases some of these feline personalities and the humans who look after them. There’s a good deal of projection in the verbal accounts of the animals’ lives, but the movie, with its mobile camera low to the ground or looking down at cat-navigated rooftops, doesn’t do much to contradict the indirect anthropomorphizing. There’s a lot of action at piers and fish markets.
One restaurant cat earns its love old-school style, by snaring vermin. Another is so meek (or haughty, depending on how you look at it) that it never enters the high-end delicatessen it’s made its home, but signals frantically at the window when it’s hungry. The movie is replete with ingeniously constructed mini-narratives, including a turf war. The mesmerizing score by Kira Fontana, interspersed with well-chosen Turkish pop, is a real asset.
The movie hits a somber note near the end, noting that Istanbul’s modernization is crowding out both individuated neighborhoods and cats. The animals, one human says, can “rekindle our own slowly dying love of life.” That’s one way of putting it, I guess. In any event, I give “Kedi” four claws up.
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