First off, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Kedi is a film for cat lovers. Feline fans will find plenty to enjoy, while those who can do without cats can probably do without Kedi. Director Ceyda Torun grew up in Istanbul, a city where hundreds of thousands of street cats live, and the people (or, at least, the people in this film) embrace their presence. There’s no attempt at making a case for or against their being in Istanbul, nor is there a concern for more practical problems that arise when dealing with hordes of homeless animals like fleas, health issues, or waste, just to name a few. This is the way things are in Istanbul, these are some of the cats who live there, and these are some of the people who deal with them.
Taken on these terms, Kedi is an enjoyable experience, even if it is the textbook definition of slight. Torun uses her feline subjects to both explore her hometown and evoke the innately pleasurable experience one can have when interacting with a cat, and while it succeeds on these fronts, it fails to make much of an impact beyond showing off some cute animals. Torun tries to pull more out of her material, like when one person theorizes that cats have an awareness of the existence of God, but there’s little sense of the divine here. Torun’s film stays firmly on ground level with her furry friends, observing them run, hide, fight, search for food, and try to survive amid the hustle and bustle of the city.
Torun focuses on several cats, with each one providing a glimpse into a different part of the city; protective mother Bengü wanders about an industrial neighborhood; Arslan hunts mice by the water, much to the relief of a nearby restaurant owner; Deniz stomps around a market like it’s his home; and Duman begs for food at a delicatessen in a more upscale part of town. A total of seven cats make up Kedi, and an even bigger number of people pop in and out of the film, providing backstory or commentary on each animal. Some of these people, like a woman who opens her home to street cats and feeds them, make up fascinating little digressions that look at the therapeutic qualities these animals can bring to people’s lives. But these people disappear almost as soon as they appear, as Torun moves on to keep the focus on the cats themselves.
It’s hard to say if a more human-based approach might have made Kedi a better experience. Torun prefers to keep her film as more of a sprawling portrait of Istanbul through her vignettes, a method that works up to a point. There isn’t much to complain about with Kedi, but on the other hand there isn’t much to single out or praise, either. It’s a film that’s happy to stay in its place as a modest look at a group of charming cats, and those willing to expect nothing more than that should have a good time with Kedi.