YouTube was partially involved in the production of Kedi, a surprisingly moving documentary from producer/director Ceyda Torun, so you might perhaps be forgiven for thinking that it’s the world’s longest ‘cat video’.
However, there’s much more subtly at work here, as what could be solely enjoyed as a cute and charming study of the street cats of Istanbul proves, in fact, to be a quietly profound chronicle of the region’s history, a positive demonstration the power of kindness and even justice and, just maybe, a religious and spiritual experience. If you want it to be.
Torun’s Turkish/American co-production follows a series of cats (mostly unnamed until the end credits) as they prowl and patrol the streets of Istanbul, and their owners (or the humans they own?) tell us about the special, sometimes fraught but usually happy relationships they have with them. We open with a ginger mog who has “conversations” with a store owner and begs food from tourists for her litter of kittens, and then a fishmonger who you’d assume would think strays to be a pest is shown to have a very soft spot for them.
These calming sequences introduce Torun’s filming techniques (frequent cat’s-eye-view camerawork that the critters often don’t seem to see), and then we meet Bengü, a tabby with another brood of littlies which she fiercely defends, while a dreadlocked woman states that being close to cats is like being friends with aliens.
Funny moments worthy of ‘cat video’ status (if you must) include a seaside café owner who’s pleased that a big, grumpy puss stalks the docks eating the mice, but a cheerful fisherman depicted caring for a bunch of cruelly dumped kittens is very affecting, and he’s also the first to properly talk of God. And, later, a young artist discusses beauty, and claims that the city has lost touch with the cats and needs to reconnect, or they’ll soon be gone and the people will suffer greatly.
At a time when the most widely-seen documentaries concern war, environmental and economic strife, past shame and gone-too-soon pop and film stars, it’s refreshing to catch something that doesn’t fill you with horror, although there are glimpses here of graffiti that bluntly says, “ERDO-GONE!” But the cats don’t care about such things, and when one of Torun’s subjects states that the cats have been in Istanbul for thousands of years, you can’t help but think that they’ll be there long after we’re all gone. Or will they save us from ourselves? Let’s hope so, and meow.
Rated PG. Kedi is screening at the Mercury Cinema for a limited season. All details are at: mercurycinema.org.au