Kedi. 2017. Oscilloscope. Directed by Ceyda Torun. Turkey, USA.
Review by Pete Porter
Kedi is essential viewing for anyone who appreciates cats, especially those cats who find autonomy by exploring the cracks and fissures in an otherwise anthropogenic setting. The setting is Istanbul, Turkey, which looks inviting here, surrounded by water, filled with sunlight and boasting marvelously cat-friendly architecture (lots of ledges, narrow passages, and hiding places). But it is the personalities, both cat and human, that enliven Kedi. Conventional wisdom suggests that cats have won the internet, but this has been a Pyrrhic victory, coming as it has at the expense of showing cats in limited ways. Is it any coincidence, for example, that the greatest feat of internet sensation Maru is trying to fit into boxes whatever their size (mugumogu 2010)? Kedi reclaims cats from both internet tropes and cozy domestication to observe cats, neither feral nor domesticated, who live on the margins of a city and those who care for them.
Kedi opens with distant images of cats exploring an ancient city. A voice-over, one of the few instances of symbolizing “the cat,” that is, turning cats into symbols, explains: “In Istanbul, the cat is more than just a cat. The cat embodies the indescribable chaos, the culture and the uniqueness that is the essence of Istanbul. Without the cat, Istanbul would lose a part of its soul.” From here Kedi introduces, one by one, the cats Sari, Duman, Bengü, Aslan Parçasi, Gamsiz, Psikopat (psychopath), and Deniz first through the observations of the camera and then through stories by human caretakers, who mostly remain nameless. The humans tell stories of how the cats adopted them or how they met, and describe the personalities and quirks of each cat. Or as the woman who introduces Sari says, “What matters is being on the same frequency as them. To communicate with them.” Other moments turn to cat philosophy: “Just as you notice the cat, the cat notices you. It’s very mutual. I think that mesmerizes me a bit. It’s so reciprocal.” A fascinating aspect of Kedi is how many of the caretakers are working class men who speak openly and assuredly about their love for the cats. They measure their words carefully, not to avoid assigning human traits to the cats, but in the interest of doing the cats justice in their descriptions. But the humans also find other meanings in the cats as two women who discuss the cats describe them as metaphors for femininity or of being a woman in Istanbul. The mini-portraits occur serially, seldom intersecting and only circling back to revisit some cats and caretakers to give a sense of closure as the film approaches its conclusion.
Director Ceyda Torun and cinematographer Charlie Wuppermann take care to adopt the point of view of the cats; for example, the camera hugs the ground to show what cats see as they walk through streets. Shots often align us with cats, who center the frame, rather than humans, who are shoes to be passed or torsos that extend hands to drop food under restaurant tables. In more distant shots, shallow focus often accentuates this alignment effect by selecting a specific cat character. In yet other shots, find-the-cat becomes a bit of a game that invites the eye to search ledges, canopies, boat docks, or other busy setting for a lounging cat. The game pays off when someone remarks that Istanbul without cats would be missing something, to an image of an alley without cats. One memorable moment shows a cat casually resting on a ledge before cutting to a more distant view: a view that reveals the ledge to be several stories above the ground. The surprise is perceptual but also conceptual because it reveals the insignificance of the elevation to the cat. Few humans could rest so casually at such a height. One human describes cats as my “super-heroes” and the many action shots of cats scaling walls, climbing trees, and other feats of casual daring make his point quite vividly.
Kedi does trade in some animal tropes, however, such as showing a copious number of kittens, who are remarkably cute of course, but most districts in the United States go to great lengths to discourage litters; Kedi is unlikely to help this effort. Free-roaming cats are also a tremendous danger to birds and other wildlife. Such concerns seem somewhat unfair as Kedi is a portrait documentary mixed with city symphony, not a civics lesson. Certainly, the cat movie has come a long way since 1894, when Étienne Jules-Marey showed the world how cats land on their feet in Falling Cat (1894) and W.K. Dickson filmed Boxing Cats (1894) (yes, it really is just boxing cats) for the Edison Company. Kedi embraces the inherent cinematic attractiveness of cats with vibrant photography that brings to life their characters and Istanbul environs. What emerges from Kedi is an endearing portrait of cats, caretakers, and the city they call home.
Kedi. https://www.kedifilm.com/. Accessed 10 November 2017.
Mugumogu. “-many too small boxes and maru-.” Youtube. Published 11 November 2010. Accessed 10 November 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XID_W4neJo