(Turkish for “cat”)
Not Rated. Running time: 1 hour 20 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 0; Language 0; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 5
Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life and honor.
Even if you prefer dogs to cats, you should enjoy this delightful documentary about Istanbul and its myriad of cats. Ceyda Torun, a Turkish-born filmmaker who now lives in the United States, and cinematographer Charlie Wuppermann conduct us on a fascinating journey that focuses upon the stories of seven street cats and the people with whom they relate. Whereas Westerners living in New York or London would regard the hundreds of thousands of stray cats who are found in every quarter of colorful Istanbul as a problem, the people whom he interviews regard them as blessing to their health and well-being.
The very first on she focuses upon feeds herself and then brings home a large morsel to feed her kittens. The woman in whose shop the feline family are welcome says, “They absorb all your negative energy. They do me good.” Others agree with her, such as the owner of an upscale restaurant who praises the cat that keeps down the mice population, at one time a problem before his protector showed up. Another woman who has a human therapist also credits cats as being therapeutic.
One woman spends a lot of her day cooking chickens, and then she goes to various spots where groups of hungry cats await her handouts. Everywhere the camera is pointed we see cats, resting on awnings and buildings high above the streets, beneath the tables of people eating at outdoor restaurants, in boats, and on chairs, or beneath the tables of flea markets and produce vendors.
A fisherman who lost his boat to a storm reports that a cat led him to a lost billfold that held just enough money for his boat repairs. He says, “Whoever doesn’t believe this story is a heathen in my book.” He muses, “Dogs think people are God, but cats don’t. Cats know that people act as middlemen to God’s will. They’re not ungrateful. They just know better.” A restaurant owner loves so much the cats who hang around outside that he keeps a tip jar on the counter, and uses the money to pay vets when they need care.
The cats are shown as diverse as people, each having its own personality—from the caring mother of the first cat to one so aggressive that it is labeled a ”psychopath” to one that is let into the second story apartment by a woman who already has a cat because of its unique way of standing sideways and lifting a paw as if it were knocking or ringing a doorbell. Another one hangs about a shop refusing handouts until it is good and hungry and then presses against the window with its paws moving up and down furiously.
Charlie Wuppermann’s camera work is astounding, from the gorgeous views of the city from a drone camera to the low level views from the height of a cat’s eye. How he achieved the fast-paced shots following a cat running through the legs of people and stands could be the subject of a mini-documentary! Also, the spare but lovely musical score by Kira Fontana adds to our enjoyment of the scenes.
There are no references to politics or social conditions, except possibly when a woman comments, “It is difficult for women to express their femininity in this country, but the cats do it so gracefully.” Nor are there any incidents reported of cruelty to what some might consider pests. (I think of the many stories I have heard of American kids tying cats tails together or dosing one with kerosene and setting it afire.) All of Ceyda Torun’s interviewees are kind-hearted people, demonstrating that cats bring out the best in people. One person observes, “Everything is beautiful if you look at it with love. If you can enjoy the presence of a cat, a bird, a flower, all the world will be yours.” Immediately there came to my mind a line from a 1970 song by Ray Stevens, “Everything is beautiful/In its’ own way…”
The film ends with a montage of shots of the seven cats and people we have been privileged to see and hear, but not without a worry that some express concerning the ongoing destruction of parks, open markets, and even entire neighborhoods caused by the construction of new high rises—that both cats and people are being threatened by such “progress.” We can only hope that such gentrification will not turn the displaced cats into pests, rather than human benefactors. I love it when a film transports us into strange and different places and cultures, causing us to see our own situation in a new light, as this one certainly does!
This review with a set of questions will be in the April 2017 issue of VP.