Ceyda Torun is eager to talk TV—particularly her TV habits growing up in Istanbul. “On Sundays we watched either BBC documentaries, like Jacques Cousteau or an Attenborough documentary, or Disney movies," she said.
Unsurprisingly, Kedi (the Turkish word for "cat") feels like the perfect offspring of these two genres. Whimsical yet informational, adorable yet poignant, this documentary about the thousands of cats living on the streets of Istanbul takes a simple concept and weaves an unexpectedly emotional story of love, life, and humanity—all while being one of the most genuinely positive and uplifting films I’ve seen in quite some time. Ceyda describes the film as, “childish in many ways, in its optimism," and the film’s energetic spirit is infectious.
The camera pans across gorgeous vistas of the city, while a cat sits nonchalantly on the ledge of a distant building. There are, at most, 10 humans with speaking parts in this movie; the cats are the top–billed actors. And they truly do feel like characters: one is a jealous housewife that hisses whenever another female cat comes around her husband. Another is a spoiled kid that claws at a café window until an employee comes outside to give him food.
Even as a self–proclaimed dog person, I absolutely melted each time a cat ran back to her home in an abandoned building to tend to her kittens, or different cat jumped up to an apartment window to say hello to its friendly tenant. By observing these animals in their element, their deeply human mannerisms reveal themselves. Remarkably, the crew behind this movie manages to film these cats without ever intruding on the story—in fact, the animals were naturals in front of the camera, except, Ceyda mentions, “the little modified rovers, which they didn’t really like." As each human comes on screen, they describe their relationship with the cats with sometimes sheepish cheer. For even just minutes a day, the cats are companions for these people and they come to represent the pulsating energy of the city. The film is remarkably directed, especially for Torun's first feature film, and each cat story builds on the next, until eventually it feels as though the audience has experienced a full tapestry of life in the city.
While talking about how the documentary got made, Ceyda mentions an “online cat renaissance” with a chuckle. She sees herself as a natural beneficiary of this internet trend: “Ten years ago, I don’t know if we would have been able to find funding for this film, before cats were so popular online.” Humans have always been fascinated with cats, whether worshiping them in ancient Egypt or laughing at YouTube videos of them falling off of couches.
While watching Kedi, one can see firsthand the transcendental relationship we have with these animals that culminates in a remarkably moving final few minutes. As we watch footage of cats all over the city, a man states with certainty that, "a cat meowing at your feet, looking up at you, is life smiling at you.” These cats are more than cute strays—they are a reminder that you are living and breathing and existing in a world that rarely gives you a chance to pause.
Ceyda, reflecting on what she learned from her experience making this film, explains, “I think people are philosophical and sort of poetic about their interactions with cats because I think that’s what cats bring out in people.” After asking me if I have a cat (Ed. note: I do not, but this movie has me reconsidering.), she continues: “Cats just sort of sit and stare at you for no reason. They don’t want you to take them out for a walk, they don’t want you to give them food, they don’t even want to cuddle. They just look at you and observe you.” Perhaps we like cats so much because we aspire to attain their level of tranquility. Cats are comfortable just being. And if we could do the same, maybe we’d all be better off.
To watch Kedi (which you definitely, definitely should), head to the Ritz at the Bourse in Center City. And if you’re feeling extra inspired, go pick up a cat from the nearest animal shelter. I’m sure Penn Residential Services won’t mind that much.