A month of Turkish culture wouldn’t work without a film. In his book Istanbul: Memories of a City the celebrated writer Orhan Pamuk notes that the Turkish film industry peaked in the late 1950s, when it came second in the world only to India, and released around 700 films every year. However, from the 1970s it went into decline, although it has experienced something of a resurgence since the late 1990s.
We’ve had a close family bereavement this month, plus my daughter’s had covid and my husband has broken his hand, so amid all the stress a serious, critically acclaimed, emotionally raw film was not what I was after. That meant not watching 2008 film Three Monkeys (shortlisted for an Oscar) or 2015 film Mustang, and it meant not seeking out a documentary on femicide that is a new UK-Turkish Oscar submission. So I settled on 2016 documentary film Kedi (Cat), directed by Ceyda Torun, which focuses on the stray street cats of Istanbul.
We were introduced one by one to a number of cats, all with very different natures, which had been semi-adopted by various traders in the city. At times it steered perilously close to sentimentality, but overall I loved the film, which was entertaining – and kind of calming.
Often the presumably Go Pro-type camera was at cats-eye level, as we followed the various animals on their jaunts around the city, and observed their interactions with the locals. Gamsiz (Carefree) had a sometime-home at a local bakery, and was always getting into scrapes and ending up at the vet, but was very happy-natured, while Durnan (Smoky) was rather aristocratic and well-mannered, never scrounging for titbits directly, but biding his time politely outside a local restaurant.
I was particularly amused by one particular (bad-natured) cat, Psikopat (Psycho), and her “husband” Osman Pasha (named after a famous Ottoman field general). There was a fair bit of anthropomorphising going on in this film.
We were introduced too to a few quite vulnerable people who found that feeding the streets cats helped with their mental health – one woman announced that her therapist believed she was trying to heal her own emotional wounds by tending to the cats so carefully, as she went on her daily rounds with bags of freshly cooked chicken; one man even read a kind of divine intervention into his encounter with the street cats of Istanbul, feeling that he had been somehow saved by caring for them.
Elsewhere people alluded to the cats’ alien and mesmeric qualities, that nevertheless do not prevent people from forming close bonds with them.
Our cat Mog died a couple of years ago now – maybe it’s time to think about a new kitty. If you’re not an animal lover, this film probably won’t appeal. But if you’re someone who is quite fond of cats, it’s definitely worth a look.