Kedi is a strange sort of documentary. There’s no overarching narration, no central narrative, and no intent to educate the audience on any particular subject matter. Rather, by examining the lives of feral cats on the streets of Istanbul, Kedi doesn’t trade on logic or intellectualism; it trades on emotion. However, it does so intelligently, so much so that if you were expecting the film to be a glorified collection of YouTube cat videos, you’re bound to be surprised at just how much thematic depth this film is able to pull from a few felines and the people who care for them.
The relationship between cats and the people of Istanbul is quite different than what you might find here in the States. Sure, some people do “own” indoor cats as permanent residents in their homes, but a great number of cats live on the streets of the city, relying on the kind nature and developed relationships with their human counterparts. Though the voiceover is comprised entirely of anecdotes and observations of the people of Istanbul, the real stars of the film are the cats, whom we grow to know and understand as individual personalities with different drives, routines, and goals. They are, in fact, a veritable community that lives in conjunction and in cooperation with the human population that built the concrete and steel jungle they call home.
From a technical standpoint, Kedi feels like a bizarre mix of human interest story and nature documentary, as we come to grow and care about the cats as individuals while necessarily watching them through naturalistic filming. It’s quite frankly astounding to see nature documentary filming techniques adapted to an urban setting, and the cats are all charismatic and photogenic enough in their own right to be considered subjects worthy of observation. The film manages to be both personal and objectively distant, yet it never loses sight of how achingly adorable its subjects are.
But what makes Kedi something truly special is that it so naturally and casually portrays something very human through its feline protagonists. The residents of Istanbul have essentially built an entire economy of kindness around caring for and loving these cats who don’t have traditional homes, and that level of compassion and empathy not only permeates the relationships with the cats but gives back to people in profound and unexpected ways. Rarely does a documentary make one feel so good about the basic decency of humanity, but oddly enough Kedi does just that by providing a rare non-human perspective.
Kedi is a short film, which means it shows up, makes its point, and is done before you know it. However, it’s also a film that makes a lasting impact, and one that will leave you surprisingly uplifted for having seen it. While not exactly life-changing, it’s far more competent and contemplative than what one would expect from a series of cat videos. And maybe, just maybe, it can restore some lost faith in your neighbors while it entertains you with a fresh litter of kittens.