One of of Istanbul’s many feline residents as seen in Kedi opening in Berkeley on Friday

Taking Kedi (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, March 4) at face value, it appears the port city of Istanbul is largely populated by feral cats. Employed for centuries as mousers aboard merchant vessels plying the Mediterranean and Black Seas, countless felines jumped ship on the banks of the Bosphorus in search of a new life (and perhaps some less demanding and more cooperative humans).

They found both – and now, they even have their very own feature-length documentary! Taking its title from the Turkish word for cat, Kedi is the real deal: never again will you have to settle for poorly produced, low-budget viral videos of felines running railway stations, jumping through snow banks or simply being adorable.

While I’ve never been to Istanbul (or anywhere east of Majorca, for that matter), the evidence in Kedi suggests that cohorts of marauding moggies do indeed rule the city’s streets. Lean, wild, and for the most part defiantly unfixed, these cats are the ultimate bohemians, living and loving as they see fit and with no apologies.

Happily for them, most of Istanbul’s humans seem more than willing to play along. The film depicts residents eagerly doing whatever it takes to please their furry masters: feeding them, grooming them, petting them, caring for their kittens, and basically following orders.

There are, of course, problems. So-called ‘urban renewal’ has reached Istanbul, decreasing the amount of greenbelt space available to local cats and forcing them to move into more tightly packed residential areas. Setting a fine example for the rest of us, the city’s two-legged inhabitants have uncomplainingly taken in this influx of four-legged newcomers.

Though uniformly imperious, Istanbul’s cats come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Big fluffy Norwegians, scrawny tabbies and tortoiseshells and shorthaired mutts are all well represented in Kedi, some more photogenic than others. None, however, are quite as special as Smokey the restaurant cat.*

Described as ‘a cat with manners’ by the chef of the neighborhood bistro he prowls, Smokey is far too dignified to beg for food from the restaurant’s customers – in fact, he doesn’t even go inside, instead keeping an eye on streetside happenings whilst providing stoic company for patio diners. When feeling a little peckish, he knocks politely on the window. You have to see it to believe it.

This 80-minute celebration of the species felis catus occasionally wanders into headier territory. One gentleman explains how caring for several dozen cats has saved him from a life of manic depression; another expounds on spirituality, explaining that while dogs think humans are God, cats know they’re merely God’s middle men.

In sum, this is perfect family viewing that should also appeal to cineastes, who will note with approval the similarities between director Ceyda Torun’s ground-level camera work and the renowned tatami shots of Yasujiro Ozu. Perhaps that’s a stretch, but compared to the camera work in Little Kittens Meowing and Talking it seems pretty reasonable.

*Note to Smokey: you should hire a new publicity agent. I couldn’t find any promotional pictures of you.

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Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box...