Those who don’t especially like cats — or Istanbul, for that matter — might not get a lot out of Turkish director Ceyda Torun’s love letter to the feline population of her native city. For everyone else, it should be an almost unadulterated pleasure.
For the thousands of years of Istanbul’s existence its inhabitants have shared the streets and Bosporus waterfront with these free-ranging, half feral, noble beasts. The animals seem untroubled by humane societies who want to find them homes or neuter them, and enjoy a symbiotic relationship with people, being fed, coddled, and petted by those who see in cats an almost mystical presence. Certainly a haughty one. “Dogs believe people are God,” says one resident. “Cats don’t.”
This makes for many cute kittens for Torun’s cat-cam to nuzzle up to. An orange tabby, tail held high, grabs a tidbit from a store owner, carries it through the legs of pedestrians and under the tables of outdoor cafes, enters a tiny niche and suddenly half a dozen adorable orange kittens pop out to receive their snack. Life doesn’t get much cuter than that.
On the other hand, another near-dead kitten is handed to a local known for his care of cats. He rushes it to a vet. One suspects there are a lot more kittens in that situation, most of whom are not as lucky. And as some neighbors fear, and as the shots of glass towers looming above the old neighborhoods of the city indicate, the rampant growth of Istanbul (the population has increased from 8.8 million to 14.8 million since 2000) means the communities that are cat-friendly may soon be gone.
Which would be a great loss. The cats, as one feline fan says, are mirrors of the people who love them.
Many are loners living on the fringe. One man suffering from depression finds relief feeding hundreds of cats every day. A young man who draws cartoons recalls how he and his friends would take care of cats and bury the deceased ones in their backyard, where they would erect wooden crosses and reenact the last scene of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Another woman, also an artist, sees in cats the independent spirit that she hopes one day women might possess in the conservative culture of Turkey.
Somehow you suspect that the cats will survive all the changes. But for those who love them, it’s another story.
Directed by Ceyda Torun. At Kendall Square. 79 minutes. Unrated (uncertain feline fates). In Turkish, with subtitles.Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.