Cats of Istanbul: A Fragmented Society’s Last Bit of Hope for Healing

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The movie Kedi is finally on screen in Santa Barbara! I have been looking forward to watching it for the last few months, though I was also worried that it might disappoint me somehow, which is partially my fault. It simply meant more than a movie for me – more like a test for whether I missed home, and if I did, how much. A little? A lot? Not at all? When a think about it though, it seems quite unfair to cast the burden of my internal conflicts on a mere movie rather than facing them myself.

As my friend Emily and I were waiting on line, the poster caught my attention: a cat, having closed it eyes, in peace with everything happening around, or maybe just indifferent, having turned its face right at me… I could not stare back for too long, as the comfort and guilt of being away from my homeland in the midst of turmoil and uncertainty slowly began to cast its shadow on my cheerful mood. We headed inside after buying out tickets.

There were around 20 people inside, which filled me with a strange sense of pride. After a few trailers, the magnificent aerial view of Istanbul filled my eyes with tears, greeting and welcoming me back to the city I have called home for the last 23 years. For the first time in six months, I heard people other than my friends and family speak English. I did not even need to read the subtitles to understand what was going on! I let a few more drops of tears roll down my face, not giving a damn about ruining my black eyeliner. Following this, my emotional roller coaster began the second I heard the song Arkadaşım Eşşek by Barış Manço, accompanying Sari, who was walking on the streets among people’s legs, begging for food to feed her kittens. (I advise you to play the song while reading the rest of the post.)

First, I have to say this movie tells a story beyond seven colorful (both literally and personally) cats with unique personalities, Bengü, Psikopat, Duman, Aslan Parçası, Sarı, Gamsız and Deniz. Even if you don’t like cats but have already been to or want to visit Istanbul some time, I can assure you that this movie will deliver a facet of the city you can never experience as a tourist or a short-term resident. You will not only witness the lives of cats but also realize that our fears, worries, challenges are one – not as humans, but as creatures that roam this world, searching for a purpose to survive. You’ll also come to realize that preserving the identity of a city is not merely about protecting your individual or political identity. It is also about respecting and protecting the urban space of another species – seeing them as equal – that has been around since the Roman Empire. You might also find yourself capturing the commonalities with the cats as you begin to see them as equals with the human residents of Istanbul – parenthood, jealousy, laziness, loyalty, independence, freedom and death. As the woman in the movie put it: “If we can solve their problems, we can solve ours too.”

Yet, the Kedi movie helped me notice something more crucial than the urban problems: We are a fragmented society, the Turks. We are disconnected, broken, divided. We either genuinely do not care about “the other” or intentionally ignore their presence, and I do not know which is worse. For example, I need to confess something: At the beginning of the movie, when the owner of a sweatshop was talking about the cat he has been caring for more than even years, I found myself wondering whether the guy was a supporter of AKP (the current ruling party of Turkey) and felt so embarrassed. I began to wonder since when I cared more about someone’s political affiliation more than their humanity, essence and good deeds. I know that I am not the only one who feels this way. Many people in Turkey has adopted this attitude and I have been seeing a similar pattern in the United States since Trump got elected. And I am ashamed of letting political identities dominate how I perceive people and the world.

The Kedi movie was very special for helping me with this realization. I spent the first half hour trying to clear my conscience but the rest of the movie gave me so much hope, making me believe that I could heal, we could heal and my country could heal. As the movie was approaching the end, I not only connected with the cats but also with the humans who shared the stories of those cats. I left the “Us. vs them?” question aside and focused on the problems, worries, cat stories, and heart wrenching and happy anecdotes of these people I shared my city with. I watched seven cats with unique characters through the eyes of humans who I have probably never seen before and would have never met otherwise.

The Kedi movie is not only a feast for the eyes or a 70-minute-long video clip of cute cat videos. It is the story of details that define Istanbul. It is the story of people who found meaning, happiness and salvation in the cats of Istanbul. It is the collective story of a bunch of unrelated people with no commonalities other than cats.

The Kedi movie is perhaps the last bit of hope for a fragmented society that it can heal its soul and become one again despite the darkness and desperation it has been stuck in for more than a decade.

You can find the screening details and pre-order a digital copy (release date is November 14, 2017) of the movie for $14.50 on the website of Kedi.

Image credit: Kedi