Thursday 6 July 2017

The Current Cinema - Fiona Mackie finds delight in KEDI (Ceyda Torun, Turkey, 2016). Stories of the cats of Istanbul

The cats of Istanbul.

For those who've been there, as much a feature as the mosques and palaces of majestic and fluctuant histories are the cats.  Millions of them we are told.  I feel still that feline body on the cafe seat I hoped to claim for my dinner, but could hardly fit beside its resistant presence - who belonged much more than me.

They claim that "belonging" all through the movie, and are spoken for by the many who befriend them, and are befriended, in ongoing relationships.

One man credits them with his recovered sanity after a breakdown that no drugs or therapy could address.  He goes out two or three times a day, with carry-bags of food prepared for his particular contingents, who gather at his approach.  But not cringing: that's not an aspect of the many acute personalities of these Istanbul creatures. 

They belong, and while not exactly demanding, they expect: that their world will provide for them.

At the delicatessen, the owners say 'their' cat never comes in and bothers them.  If it wants to be fed, they say, it just paws at the window; and there it is, paws scraping clawlessly down the glass, at an increasing speed and intensity.  It's very fussy about the meat it likes, they declare.  It used to be roast beef, but now it'll only eat turkey; and they cut slivers of a particularly soft cheese for it.

These are cats with character, who haven't forgotten their catness by being kept in houses, as one girl observes.  But they're not to be pitied, either, for that; not lurking, deprived street-cats, but well-fed felines of unrestricted movement, tracing their familiar pathways and pavements with as much right and purpose as any passing people.

Memorable is the frequency of men's smiles among those who befriend the cats.  There are many women also so involved, but it's the smiles of the men that linger in the memory.  Delightedly surprised, it seems, by being so tempted out of themselves as to relate so directly and nurturingly to the cats that chose them, visit them, live among them ... and are fed.

These cats have many ports of call, and deep attachments to particular people, but are never dependent or pleading.  

Co-inhabitants of the city are they, and they've been so since 'way back in the history of this astonishingly historical place.
Many came on boats, back in time, kept, then, to deal with the ship-bourne rats, and dropped off, deciding to stay.

One cat is deeply appreciated for its role at a street-side restaurant.  They built the sewers through here, we're told, under the street which the rats came up to scavenge.  And it's not good to have rats near people eating.  

They wondered about having to get rat poison, also not good near food, but the cat took care of that: it deals with the rats at night, in payment for its food - "earns its keep", but would clearly be loved despite that.

And then there are the families, developing everywhere: tiny kittens in boxes, with guarding mothers.  Others leaping and playing - still young, but growing.

And no fights.  Marking of territories, protecting of zones, persisting penetration of previously private haunts, challenges shriekingly voiced on occasion; but notably a population that moves among its accompanying population of people without hostile disturbance.

"They absorb our negative energy", a couple of different people aver.  They are between us and the gods, full of the supernatural.

And this film, which treats them with the dignity and independence they claim, along with the love, shows a reality of history that is often lost in the flurry to show the monuments, the taller edifices away from the streets where so much life goes on among the shops and stalls and pavements. 

Among the cats, who've brought life to an ongoing way of being that is as much an enduring feature of the city as is its more obvious cultural landscape.

And it is to these cats' perspective that we owe this real and delicate film - full of straightforward, unsentimental and unapologetic love; and the healing power of the meeting and acceptance between creatures of fur and skin.

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