Directed by: Ceyda Torun
Produced by: Ceyda Torun, Charlie Wupperman
Executive Produced by: Thomas Podstawski, Gregor Kewel
Music by: Kira Fontana
Cinematography by: Alp Korfali, Charlie Wupperman
Editing by: Mo Stoebe
An Oscilloscope Laboratories release. For screening dates and preorders, visit KEDi here.
“See these eyes so red
Red like jungle burning bright
Those who feel me near
Pull the blinds and change their minds”
–David Bowie, “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)”
When I visited Istanbul for a month in 2014, I stayed in several locations on both the European and Asian sides of the city, each with their own diverse communities of people, landmarks, and social units. The line that separates the continents divides the citizenry, too, into two general sets of people: those who abhor the pestilent cats that flood the Turkish streets, and those who are happy to live in harmony with the quadrupeds. For many, the sight of a motherly animal protecting its young is life-affirming, but others see it as an omen of plague.
Here is a movie that gives voice to these polar opinions and every other shade of affection in between for the ever-present felines. KEDi, directed by Ceyda Torun with a tender hand and a poetic narrative voice, has no arguments to make and no audiences to convince, at least not explicitly. Rather, this warm and beautifully choppy feature tries for a sort of studious cat ethnography, similar in approach to the artists behind Babies and, more broadly, the Planet Earth series.
To be sure, there are certain points when Alp Korfali’s and producer Charlie Wupperman’s watchful cinematography seems intended purely for viral video seekers and fans of “Carpool Karaoke.” You do not need to be a cat lover to enjoy their antics, which include but are not limited to: stealing little fish; ape-like swinging from rooftops to canopies; and using their claws to naturally recreate the Ronda Rousey-Holly Holm fight from 2015.
But miraculously – and in defiance of any expectation you might have for a film literally named for the animals at its center – Torun never pushes Wupperman’s and Korfali’s footage into cuteness pornography territory, garnishing KEDi with conversational aphorisms and the sly intellect of a philosopher.
Although the movie dips in and out of the lives of many others, it primarily traces the paths of seven cats among the hundreds of thousands living in Istanbul (not to mention the itinerants who come from elsewhere in Turkey or wider seafaring Mediterranea.) You will inevitably see them all, so I will simply tell you about my favorites – beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all. And what is this kind of movie if not a Rorschach test for the viewer, forcing you to make allegiances and project onto the cats your own preferences?
I particularly adored the first main character, Sari, a lightly rust-colored female tabby whose relationship with a local business owner has earned her the nickname “YellowShit.” Sari moves from tourist to tourist, hunting down scraps, only for Torun to reveal – aww – that her Midnight Cowboy-style hustle is on behalf of her adorable kittens.
For contrast, the filmmaker gives us Psikopat, an aggressive and controlling short-hair known for abusing any females that lay a competitive eye on her current mate. Swaggering, mean, and as her name entails, perhaps unhinged, Psikopat represents a Yin to Sari’s Yang, both trying to protect their interests in the fast-paced Turkish metropolis through distinctly opposite methodologies.
Torun traffics in doublings like these, not only amongst the four-leggeds, but also between their human counterparts. Each feline is united by their fairly specific attachments to people, which range from distant, almost cavalier dismissal to clear adoration from both parties. It would have been one kind of accomplishment for the filmmakers to simply follow cats around the city, but Torun and editor Mo Stoebe, doing especially empathic and fluid work with this footage, let Istanbul’s residents speak for themselves about their feline relationships. By the second or third interview between the director and her human subjects, it settles in that this is far from a nature documentary. Actually, it is intended more as a polyphonous tone poem.
Having visited Istanbul so recently, just after the sickening abuses of protestors in Taksim Square’s Gezi Park in 2013 and the recent burst of near-fascistic behaviors in the national government, I also believe that any piece of art that can present an aspect of the city’s millennia of history unironically or untragically requires a certain magic from the artists. It’s a near impossible task, and there are obtuse references to the Erdoğan regime scattered throughout.
The struggling economy, for example, is a concern for several of the business owners Torun interviews; sometimes, the filmmaker even has the gall to ask directly about how her subjects pay for the strays. But no one directly invokes – at least so far as my experience allows me to catch – the complex state of things in this world capital.
If KEDi is a political act, it is only insofar as its wonder at the natural world and its appreciation of the interspecies dynamic undergirding Istanbul are progressively unselfish, even humane.
Consider the brusque, mustachioed man who cradles a kitten in his arms after hearing it was attacked, then takes it in a taxi to his local vet. Wupperman and Korfali capture these specific proceedings from a slight distance, our fear unconsciously growing that some defenseless little critter might have had its head smashed in. Our sympathies come to lay mutually with the animal and the person – a stranger to us, just like the cat, yet someone with a demonstrated generosity of spirit and attention to the pain of another.
Torun welcomes us unwittingly into the lives of every creature onscreen, bipedal or otherwise. So while the film may not be expressly driven by an agenda, I think that any person intent on taking access to any kind of medical care away from another sentient being should be forced to sit through a screening of KEDi.