Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Istanbul or Cat-stantinople?

Bangkok cats

Alley cat - Bangkok
Like cats? Then it might be time to put Istanbul on your must-visit list if it isn’t already there. The new documentary film Kedi reveals that the city is full of street cats of all, er, stripes - charming, imperious, streetwise, affectionate, tough, shy, roguish…and all of them on the prowl for food. The camera often gets low to slink along with the felines as they easily negotiate the docks, crowded sidewalks, and subterranean levels of a bustling city that is losing prime urban cat habitat to development. This danger to the Istanbul’s long-standing cat population is part of the narrative, but doesn’t dominate the proceedings. The movie mainly focuses on a handful of specific cats as they make their appointed rounds, some confidently demanding entrance to, or striding into, businesses or residences they have co-opted as their own, while others patiently (well, sometimes) wait outside cafes to be served alongside the paying customers. Then there are the hunters and the expert pilferers (yes, cat burglars), whose stealth and acrobatics are so impressive that even their victims have to admire them.

Lazing in Lumpini Park (Bangkok)

Though the focus is on felines, Kedi is just as much an appreciation of the people who unconditionally feed and care for them, recording their generosity and philosophical musings about the nature of cats, humans’ relationships with them, and occasionally matters of a more spiritual nature. Certainly cats have served as saviors to some of those interviewed, though the film doesn’t reveal much about the interviewees (just who was that woman with the body modifications who spoke about her therapist?). Then again, it doesn’t have to - the filmmakers do an excellent job showing, not telling, the aspects of their personal stories that relate to the film. We might not know much about the people, but it is easy to instantly connect with them through their kindness and obvious affection for their charges. Remarkably, many of the people who don’t own cats (assuming “owning” a cat is ever possible) have their own veterinarians, and often a running tab.

Kyoto kitty
Istanbul and its vibrant sidewalk cafes play a vital supporting role throughout, with a compelling soundtrack, featuring pop songs dating back to the 1950s (including “Uska Dara” performed by Eartha Kitt - how appropriate to have Catwoman on the soundtrack!), helping to establish the city’s hip and exotic vibe. Often the camera soars up from the sidewalks, affording us beautiful bird’s-eye views of the venerable port city, which clearly retains its charms despite the inevitable march of modernization. That persistent rumbling undercurrent of threat to not only the cats’ way of life, but also potentially to that of the residents of the city, is disturbing, but Kedi is still ultimately an uplifting meditation on cats and the people who open their doors and hearts to them. If you’re like me, you’ll be left wanting nothing more than to repair to an Istanbul cafe for a leisurely session of drinking tea, watching passersby, and, of course, pampering the inevitable cat or three.

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Gotta Gettaway by Josh Lewis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.