Kedi, the new documentary about Istanbul’s sizable stray cat population, is so full of kindness and warmth that it’s like jumping into a pile of freshly-laundered bedding just pulled out of the dryer, or floating around in a slightly stoned bubble bath, or, I don’t know, being a kitten?
Kedi focuses on the stories of several city cats—their petty rivalries, their hopes and dreams, the humans who patiently take care of them—and makes a very strong case for becoming a cat person. (To paraphrase one cat-fancier interviewed: “Dogs think you’re a god, but cats are too smart for that!”) The squee opportunities are abundant: You’ll see kittens in boxes and other sneaky hiding places, a man who walks the streets of the city feeding feral cat families, a fisherman who keeps abandoned kittens alive by helping them drink milk from a syringe, and a grateful employee at a mouse-plagued restaurant who celebrates the deus ex machina arrival of an efficient and hungry cat. The cats are introduced as characters, and a very charming portrait emerges of a community that takes its shared responsibility for animals very seriously.
But what doesn’t appear on-screen is as important as what does, and to describe Kedi as an extended cat video is to ignore the sociopolitical context of the city where the cats live—context that’s only hinted at in statements from the locals, but that adds poignant sophistication and an ever-present emotional core to a documentary I’m sure some will dismiss as lighthearted entertainment. Kedi doesn’t overtly address the recent spate of terrorist attacks on Istanbul. Instead, it portrays quiet, communal, even private moments of routine connection. It’s a side of Istanbul that’s rarely seen, and a powerful reminder of those impacted by terrorist attacks that may only be headlines to westerners. Making a documentary about Istanbul that employs such a loving and optimistic lens might seem counterintuitive, but it’s exactly what makes Kedi so powerful.