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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Kedi is a charming, "cat's eye"-view documentary about felines who live wild in the city of Istanbul. It's gentle enough for younger viewers, but it's in Turkish, with subtitles, so kids who aren't reading yet (or are reluctant readers) may not be interested. There's no cursing, substance abuse, or sex (other than the occasional reference to cats being pregnant or having kittens). But people do talk frankly about cats being killed by cars or cancer, though no deaths happen onscreen. Some of the cats look a bit ragged, but most seem healthy. They occasionally fight and hiss/claw at each other. Some cats stalk mice; no mice are killed on camera, but cats do occasionally steal and eat (already dead, sometimes headless) fish from shop owners. Respect and love for animals pervades the film, and you'd be hard pressed not to feel compassion for the cats after watching.
What's the story?
In most cities, cats are kept indoors, safe from cars and predators, yet forced to live a predictable domestic life. But the warm-hearted documentary KEDI focuses on the thousands of cats who freely roam the streets of Istanbul, owned by no one. Some are scavengers, eating from trash cans and sleeping anywhere they can curl up comfortably. Others are the darlings of their neighborhoods, given their choice of fancy people-food tidbits and lovingly cared for by human friends. Kedi watches these cats going about their lives and talks to the people who feed, pet, and care for them, who offer plenty of diverse, even philosophical opinions on the cats and what they mean and bring to the lives of those who know them.
Is it any good?
Sweet, loving, and filled with beautiful visuals of cats and the surprisingly moving and fanciful thoughts of those who know them, this documentary scores on multiple levels. Cat-lovers will be instantly charmed by Kedi's cat's-eye-level cinematography, which must have been filmed by someone literally lying on the ground. It turns the cats into the stars of the film, while people are mostly a jumble of legs, occasionally popping into the frame for a few minutes to relate stories or anecdotes about "their" neighborhood cat: how the cat came to hang around, what he or she eats, the things they notice about the cat's behavior, and their effect on the humans around them.
These humans love their cat friends so much that it's beautiful to watch. "She nearly passes out when you pet her," says a shopkeeper, scratching his furry friend on her chest. "That's the spot!" he smiles, talking over the cat's thunderous purr and telling her "you really know how to live." They do. The Istanbul cats are fierce and wild, stealing food from stores, begging at restaurants, preying on mice, birthing litters of kittens in cardboard boxes and abandoned basements, competing with each other. But they're lovely, and loved too, by people who are happy to let them roam free and to see them each day. "Having a relationship with cats must be a lot like being friends with aliens," says one interviewee. "You make contact with a very different life form." We're just glad that this life-affirming documentary gives us a chance to look and listen in on that life form for a while.
Talk to your kids about ...
How do you think the film might be different if it were set in another city? What about if the documentarian chose to focus on people who didn't like the cats of Istanbul? Or if the movie focused on a different wild animal that lives among humans?
Do documentaries have to be objective? How do filmmakers' personal opinions and experiences impact even "factual" movies?
Does having to read the dialogue in subtitled movies make it harder to understand what's going on? Do you prefer movies dubbed in English to those with subtitles?
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