To some viewers, Kedi will likely be described as just another nature documentary, only not as good since you have to read subtitles rather than let the enunciative charm of a British narration wash over you. However, for film lovers and cat lovers like me, Kedi is the Citizen Cain of nature documentaries. It doesn’t get better than this.
Set in modern day Istanbul, Kedi documents the stray cats that inhabit the city. As told in the film, sailors keep cats aboard their ships to keep the rats under control. However, when ships reach the harbors of Istanbul, the cats disembark and rarely make their way back to the same boat. The frequency of this incidental cat migration has made the Turkish metropolis home to a broad sector of cats.
While brief history lessons like this make Kedi informative, its portrait of seven cats and the city they live in make the film a transcendent experience. Director Ceyda Torun documents the daily lives of seven cats: Sari, Duman, Bengü, Aslan Parçasi, Gamsiz, Psikopat, and Deniz. Each one unique in appearance and personality, but singular in the delight they bring to the people around them. One restaurant owner’s tip jar funds veterinary visits for the stray cats in his neighborhood. Other residents credit their feline friendships in helping them defeat their own personal demons. No matter the case, the residents of Istanbul seem to share a unified appreciation – one might even say reverence – for the city’s cat population.
“It is said cats are aware of God’s existence,” states one interviewee. “While dogs think people are God, cat don’t. They just know better.” While a dog lover may emphatically agree with this assertion, they would use it to claim dogs make the better companion. A dog does not need to receive love to give it. Who wouldn’t want that kind of master-servant relationship?
Kedi interprets the assertion differently: because a cat knows humans are fallible, any bond they may share is mutually earned. Much like the relationships between two people.
Identifying personhood in cats is certainly at the forefront of this documentary’s message. And to my delight as a viewer, it never felt forced upon me. Many documentaries fall into the shock and awe category. Their message is dystopic and urgent and if you don’t act now you will die and/or Earth will cease to exist as we know it. Many documentaries in this category are memorable, but not because they are great movies. They are memorable because they make the audience feel guilty for not supporting A, B, and C or not being aware of X, Y, and Z.
Kedi could have gone down this path. It could have featured interviews with prominent animal rights activists and buried the audience beneath statistics and data. Instead it earns respect and praise by showing, not telling. By focusing on the characters and the aesthetic, it will first and foremost be remembered as a great film. It features stunning cinematography and poignant, personal interviews that presents Istanbul as a truly magical place: both for its human and feline residents alike.
Kedi is free to watch with a YouTube Red subscription. YouTube purchased the exclusive distribution rights and published it on May 10, 2017.