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Director: Ceyda Torun
Genre: Cat documentary
4 (out of 5) Globes
Every now and then, the political columnist Ana Marie Cox floods her Twitter feed with cute pet photos. Sometimes it’s because the world suddenly got awful. Other times it’s just ‘cause. She's been doing it a lot more recently, for obvious reasons, each one a virtual tidal wave of feline and canine whippersnappers. Each bout is so numerous and aggressive they can almost be annoying; there’s so much adorbs you may find yourself furiously scrolling to get back to the horrible and apocalyptic. But she's always doing the lord's work.
The doc “Kedi,” about stray cats skulking about Istanbul, is an Ana Marie Cox pet deluge in cinematic form. It’s an 80-minute dopamine rush for those who need it. It has perfect timing, too: Experts (to those who still listen to them) advise against freebasing 24/7 on panic. Time sucks are no longer caked in guilt; they’re necessary for mental stability, long as we don’t disappear permanently into an oblivion of obliviousness.
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And there’s no better head-cleaner than a YouTube cat video Stretch Armstronged to feature length. Trump’s a psycho with his tiny hands on the bomb; on the other hand: kitty! In “Kedi” — which is in fact the Turkish word for “cat” — they sleep on roofs, they perch on motorcycles, they play in beds of soil. There are catfights and meow-offs. A manx and a tabby are seen curled up together in slumber, like a furry yin-and-yang symbol. This one time a cat paws madly at a bakery store window, its meows muffled by the glass, and it is indeed the most darling thing ever.
Honestly, if this was all there was to “Kedi,” that would be fine. But there is more to it — just enough “more” that it doesn’t distract from what you came to see. And so it’s part cat gawk session, part city symphony, part non-depressing existential treatise, allowing one to make “awwww” noises one second, lightly ponder the cosmos the next. You need a break from “awwww”ing anyway, lest your head explode like that guy from “Scanners.”
“Kedi” also allows some mighty fine sight-seeing, poring through the streets of Istanbul, where cats have been a mainstay for thousands of years. “They have seen empires rise and fall,” points out one of many breathless commentators. One man talks about how tending to strays saved him from a nervous breakdown. Some speak of gaining much-needed perspective. Where dogs are needy, cats are self-reliant, requiring only food, drink and attention (and then only when they want it). As someone puts it, “Existence is good enough for them.”
Istanbul is one of the few places on Earth that could have produced “Kedi.” It’s the rare metropolis where cats roam free, where the locals have created a sense of community with both themselves and their critter invaders. To domesticate them, one says, would simply be cruel. Director Ceyda Torun never addresses the dark times that have descended upon Turkey. But that doesn’t feel like a dodge; it’s more like an act of defiance. Istanbul is shown to be a city rich with life, of animal and mammal kind alike. Everyone and every cat keeps keepin’ on, not letting themselves be defined by those who endanger them.
But who are we kidding? You came to see cats. Did we mention the fresh litter of grey newborns that mewl hoarsely from inside a cardboard box? Or the part where three tabby cats line up in a row according to height? "Kedi" is the rare film to deliver exactly what it promised, and it will one day produce 80 minutes worth of gifs, there to provide relief in an uncertain future. Why are other movies even made?
"Kedi" opens Fri., Feb. 10 at the Metrograph in New York City. It will open Fri., Feb. 24 in both Philadelphia and Boston.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge