Watch Kedi for the Holidays



KEDI (2017
Directed by Ceyda Torun
Oscilloscope Laboratories, 79 minutes, Not-Rated (a saint couldn’t object)
In Turkish with subtitles (but very little dialogue)

If you’re in need of a smile and some metaphorical warm fuzzies, the Turkish documentary Kedi will make you purr. The very title sounds like “kitty,” and that’s what this documentary is about. Its subject is street cats in Istanbul, but fear not: these are not pussies in peril. Kedi casts its spotlight on the unique love affair between Turks and its assorted toms and tabbies. It’s also a small slice of anthropology in that it highlights several significant differences in how Turks and Westerners relate to cats.

Those departures begin with how cats are raised. Like so many things in the West, a cat is a possession—at best a pampered houseguest; at worst a disposable commodity to be given away or sent to the pound if it doesn’t “work out” or no longer fits our lifestyle. Residents in Istanbul don’t possess cats; they are possessed by them. Cats are community responsibilities, even when the beastie in question chooses to reside in a particular place. A neighborhood cat is literally so. Fishmongers just scratch their heads when a marauding moggy pilfers a sardine or two from their stalls. More likely still, the vendors preemptively toss a few into their path.

This highlights another difference: Turks celebrate the cat’s intrinsic wildness, not its domestication. Mousers generally roam free in Istanbul, regardless of whether or not they tend to bed down at a particular domicile. In the film, numerous people wax eloquent about the essential nature of cats and their abiding respect for those traits. They see the world, with all its perils and curiosities as a cat’s to endure and explore.  

One aspect of this might trouble Westerners: Turks seldom spay or neuter their furry friends. Because cats are intact and free to roam, Istanbul has a lot of them—as in a whole kit and kaboodle. Quite a few are feral or semi-feral, but even the more settled females are likely to drop their litters just about anywhere. If anything happens to the mother, only luck can help the kittens. Fortunately, because Turks so revere cats, there are lots of people who make it their job—for reasons ranging from altruism to self-therapy—to feed street cats and rescue abandoned kittens. In Istanbul, numerous individuals roam the neighborhoods with plastic bags filled with kibble and chicken bits to feed hungry felines.

This is an utterly charming film. To be honest, it’s at best a two-trick Felix. Its overall theme is that Turks like cats. Want a subtheme? Okay, Turks really like cats.  They like them so much that they worry that Istanbul’s rapid modernization and proliferation of high rises encroach upon the city’s street cat culture.

Kedi sends simple messages and does it well. Sure, it’s basically an extended Internet cat video, but Kedi is a happy way to pass 79 minutes. You can curl up on a cold winter’s night—perhaps with persnickety puss on your lap—and goofily grin as you watch cantankerous critters prowl, meow, submit to petting, and—as is their way—scowl and bugger off. As your cat sighs in disgust and jumps from your reach, you can ponder the cat’s most brilliant magic trick: giving us so little and commanding so much in return.

Rob Weir

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