Lynn, my grandmother, rescued a gray and white kitten from the docks of the Lewes Bay, subsequently naming her “Lewie.” I remember meeting Lewie; she was gently bundled up like a Danish. She unhinged her fangs and let out a giant hiss. In reality she probably sounded like a tire with a pinhole of a leak but I was ten and rather offended that this little teacup of a creature greeted me with such chagrin. Lewie drained the reservoirs of my cereal milk, in particular my Banana Nut Crunch cereal. My grandparents had all of the quintessential “old people” cereals to choose from. In short, Lewie vexed me.
Yes, yes I’ll confess. I’m a dog person. Bear, who resided at the same condo as that dynamite cat, was an instantly lovable blub. Bear tried to steal my pistachios as I sat on a tartan chair straight out of an Orvis catalogue. I thought it was precious, never malicious. I asked for a dog every year until my parents got me a…used rabbit. I would walk Snowflake the rabbit around the neighborhood.
This mild annoyance of cats only ended last year when an Italian fellow explained the allure of the feline to me. He basically said dogs are easy; they give away their affection to anyone. Cats make you work for it: they want you when they want you and it’s AWESOME.
I visited him in Rome, still unconvinced, and he took me to Largo Argentina. Pointing his hand like a great Roman orator statue, he motioned for me to look below the rails that framed the ancient temple. He told me that this is the temple of cats and the same spot where Julius Caesar was murdered. The stray cats have been congregating here for years. I quickly scanned around for a cat and saw one; I don’t even remember what it looked like but I got goosebumps.
That feeling I had in Rome at the temple of the cats needed no historical embellishment. It was lovely to just experience that hollow sensation of teetering between grasping at all my knowledge of Rome’s history and the modernity of it. There is power in knowing that eons have occurred in this space but not feeling the need to process it all.
Kedi (2016) allows the audience to experience with minimal interference. It is a humbling documentary about the stray cats of Istanbul. There is a heavy historical weight associated with Istanbul’s past, the juggernauts of ancient civilization: Byzantium and Constantinople. I remember outlining the borders of the Roman Empire with a fine opaque line of colored pencil in 6th grade. It was all about the grandiosity. Kedi gives your mind something else to nibble on. The vivid cinematography by Alp Korfali and Charlie Wuppermann distracts your brain from forging those historical links. The mannerisms of a cat mirror the narrative decisions in this documentary.
The pace of Kedi is balanced between the true wildness of a cat and the domesticity that evolves as humans do. To keep up with the spontaneity of a stray cat requires a handheld camera and a quick set of eyes. Kedi’s organic pace is thrown askew by the unnecessary and forced interview segments with the locals. I forgive it because the visual offerings are so spectacular. The textures, colors and energy create a similar meditative state that I experienced in Italy. The cats, in gray shades of elephant’s breath, vibrate against deep cerulean blue fabric casually draped throughout the city. I’m always a fan of specificity in imagery and narrative. My father used to read me a passage from a John D. MacDonald novel where a man eats a hunk of Vermont “rat” cheese and a thick slice of a Bermuda onion. It’s glorious. Kedi delivered in that department for me. The “gentleman” cat that paws politely at the restaurant window, evolved to prefer only thin slices of smoked turkey and delicate rectangles of manchego cheese.
As Thomas O’Malley the alley cat in Aristocats (1970) crooned:” everybody’s pickin’ up on that feline beat. ‘Cause everything else is obsolete”. Kedi’s original score by Kira Fontana coupled with the expressiveness of the cat echoes that sentiment. The prowess of the cat is paid its due from the epic Arabic darbuka drum of Sidney Hopson. Typically those musical sequences are reserved for great battles but in this documentary the cats conquer.
My favorite sequence was the Tom and Jerry moment between the black & white cat, Aslan Parçasi, and a curious rat at a waterfront restaurant. Aslan Parçasi took it upon himself to rid the restaurant of its pest problem. The drums come in quick spits, becoming disjointed with each parallel edit. The pace is beautifully timed and oddly exhilarating even though the rat manages to escape and we don’t actually see any type of scuffle between the two. The cat is victorious in another sense; it commands attention from the audience. The next shot is a gorgeous night time vista. The lights steal away from the previous scene and it’s all forgotten.
What is lovely about Kedi is that the director keeps it casual. Just like a cat, the film isn’t trying too hard to make you like it. You either do or you don’t and it’s going to keep on keeping on despite your final thoughts. That quiet air of confidence is rare in a documentary. Many documentaries of now lead towards some ethical enlightenment instead of just enjoyment. So go watch Kedi. Right meow.