Stray cats have lived in Istanbul for thousands of years, nearly as long as the city has been standing. The new documentary Kedi, opening Friday at the Cedar Lee, offers a gallery-style view of the cats inhabiting Istanbul while citizens offer their thoughts and feelings about the animals in their respective communities.
The film shows how the cats live on a day-to-day basis and posits that, despite their stray nature, they have essentially become citizens of Istanbul. It doesn't have one dominant story to tell, making Kedi closer to an observational nature documentary than a standard narrative documentary.
The film is at its best when it allows the audience to focus on a particular cat for a length of time, like the hardened fish thief called "Psychopath" or the rough-and-tumble cafe cat named "Carefree." Allowing the personalities of the cats to shine pushes the film into more than just animal photography. For a documentary, though, is pretty light on context and history; there's one interview that briefly explains where the cats came from but, other than that, the film doesn't offer much about Istanbul's current social climate or discuss what kinds of challenges the cats will face in a changing world.
A lot of the film's commentary is pretty Zen, and presents cats in a reverent, nearly religious way. Many of the interviews ruminate on cats as symbols of life, death, love and happiness, explaining how caring for cats can teach someone how to be a better person. Sometimes the meditations on the felines can be overly sentimental but, occasionally, there is a line or two that rings true.
If you're a fan of cats, there's enough wonderful photography in this film to keep you engaged and entertained. If you're not a cat person, you may find this documentary a little lacking in substance.
It can be fun to watch the cats treat Istanbul like a playground. But after a while, some viewers might find themselves preferring a deeper treatment of the film's subjects.