“Kedi” is the cat’s meow. Literally.
This heartening, if less-than-brutally-honest documentary, takes viewers to Istanbul, which has an apparent centuries-old tradition of letting thousands of cats wander its streets. These aren’t really feral cats — they are used to and often depend on human affection — but most don’t have specific owners. Or collars. Or shots. Or even names.
Walk down the street and you’ll see a cat, or five, or twenty. There are cats in the subway, cats wandering through open-air markets, cats camped out in cafes, cats on boats, surely cats near fish mongers. Cats knocking on apartment windows, cats in catfights, cats — and plenty of kittens — tucked in nooks and crannies everywhere.
And the citizens of Istanbul, at least those interviewed here, love it. They speak of cats knowing God, of cats as therapeutic, of cats as feminine, and as an integral part of Istanbul’s culture. One man says he doesn’t know how he would have gotten through childhood without cats as companions; another credits them with bringing him back from a nervous breakdown.
Food and water containers are laid out on streets. One family boils 20 pounds of chicken a day, then wanders about the neighborhood doling out free food for the cats. Shopkeepers have running tabs at veterinarians for cats that get sick or injured.
Much of the film is spent just following cats, with photography moving at a cat-cam level as they scurry between people, seeking food for their young, some human affection or just the day’s adventure.
There has to be some downside to all this — a man talks about how his backyard was filled with graves for cats hit by cars; how many kittens starve or freeze to death? — but “Kedi” avoids lingering on such concerns. Instead it purrs with optimism and kitty wonder.
Tom Long is a longtime culture critic
Running time: 80 minutes
At The Detroit Film Theatre