The ro­mance be­tween cats and Tur­key

★★✰✰ Drama. In Turk­ish with sub­ti­tles. Un­rated. 80 min­utes.

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Vanessa H. Lar­son Spe­cial to The Wash­ing­ton Post

Sari the hus­tler, Du­man the gen­tle­man, Bengu the lover, Psikopat the psy­cho — they may sound like char­ac­ters straight out of a gang­ster movie, but they are, in fact, some of the col­or­ful fe­lines pro­filed in “Kedi,” an en­dear­ing doc­u­men­tary about Is­tan­bul’s street cats.

For cen­turies, if not mil­len­nia, street cats have roamed the city of Is­tan­bul, where they are not merely tol­er­ated for their ro­dent-con­trol­ling abil­i­ties but beloved by its hu­man in­hab­i­tants, who feed them and form close at­tach­ments to them.

For­eign vis­i­tors have like­wise been cap­ti­vated by the ubiq­ui­tous pres­ence of cats in Tur­key’s largest city. Turks de­lighted when, on a state visit by Barack Obama to Tur­key in 2009, the pres­i­dent fa­mously bent down to pet one of the strays liv­ing in the Ha­gia Sophia church, a well-known land­mark.

In “Kedi” (Turk­ish for “cat”), di­rec­tor Ceyda Torun pro­files seven kit­ties across the city — each one a fixture in the com­mu­nity — and the res­i­dents who have de­vel­oped re­la­tion­ships with them. The Turk­ish Amer­i­can film­maker, who says Is­tan­bul’s street cats helped her avoid lone­li­ness as a child, does not iden­tify her hu­man sub­jects by name, al­though she does the cats.

There is, for ex­am­ple, Gam­siz the player, a blackand-white male liv­ing in the trendy Ci­hangir neigh­bor­hood who so­lic­its food, af­fec­tion and oc­ca­sional shel­ter from a hand­ful of area res­i­dents, in­clud­ing a cheer­ful baker who de­scribes him­self as Gam­siz’s “main hu­man,” say­ing he has a run­ning tab with all the nearby vets.

The hu­man-fe­line in­ter­ac­tions in the film can be quite ten­der, par­tic­u­larly when the in­ter­view sub­jects — who fre­quently as­cribe hu­man per­son­al­ity traits to their four-legged friends — re­flect on what the crea­tures have brought to their lives, whether in the form of com­pan­ion­ship or even a sense of pur­pose.

The cam­er­a­work skill­fully mim­ics a cat’s-eye view, with ex­tended se­quences filmed just over the an­i­mals’ shoul­ders us­ing re­mote­con­trolled cam­era rigs that fol­low them as they saunter around, for­age for meals and get into hiss­ing matches. In­ter­spersed through­out the film are also beau­ti­ful drone-cap­tured ae­rial shots of Is­tan­bul’s sprawl­ing streets and the Bosporus wa­ter­way, which im­part a strong sense of place.

Though pleas­ant to watch, Torun’s fea­ture de­but feels more like a me­an­der­ing mon­tage than a struc­tured nar­ra­tive, and it could eas­ily be half as long. There is dis­ap­point­ingly lit­tle in the way of his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural con­text to help ex­plain the role of cats in Is­tan­bul’s ur­ban fab­ric. Nor does the film­maker ad­dress much of the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal up­heaval that this megac­ity is cur­rently un­der­go­ing.

“Kedi” isn’t for ev­ery­one. But for cat lovers who can’t get enough of on-screen fe­lines, you could say it’s purr-fectly charm­ing.

Pro­vided by Ter­mite Films

A cat from the film “Kedi.”

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