Movie Review: Kedi

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A tabby sits on a ledge in Istanbul at sunset in the documentary Kedi. (Source: Vox)

“Without cats, Istanbul would lose part of its soul,” says one of the residents interviewed for Kedi (“Cat” in Turkish). This documentary follows seven out of thousands of stray cats roaming the streets of Turkey’s capital city. Each of them have a distinct personality and daily routine, not to mention keeping bugs and mice out. These furry creatures also interact with and being taken care of by their human counterparts. They are seen everywhere: fish markets, cafes, restaurants, sidewalks, roofs, ledges, benches, piers, and the list goes on and on. No wonder how these people can be so affectionate to these cats!

As a former cat owner, I never knew there would be a “cat metropolis” anywhere in the world. Cats are truly one-of-a-kind pets. They can be attentive and playful at one point, and can be a pain in the ass the next. It’s hard to waste another day not having a cat around. After seeing Kedi (there were only two people at my screening, which included myself and another guy), I had the feeling of adopting another cat of my own. Seeing a documentary focusing more on the human side is a breath of fresh air.

Director Ceyda Torun (a native of Istanbul) uses plenty of filming techniques to breathe life into her directorial debut. From having the camera low to the ground in level with the cats (eventually using night-vision to capture one of the cats attempting to catch a rat in the sewers) to going high in the air providing breathtaking aerial shots of Istanbul. Throughout the 80-minute duration, she never overexploits politics or religion. The residents do mention both in their interviews, but they never ramble on about them. It’s only up to the audience to ask questions about the future of Istanbul’s cat population as well as the city as a whole. What would happen if the cats are removed from the streets? Where will they go? It’s impossible for Istanbul to remove the bond between a cat and a human-being.

You might be wondering how the cats decide to roam around Istanbul for centuries. A variety of different breeds would go on a cargo ship to keep the rodents off. Once the ship arrives in Istanbul, the cats would jump off and hit the streets. They start making a living, so new generations of them would arrive in an unusual yet unique environment.

According to Islam, the prophet Muhammad became fond of cats. It was believed a cat saved him from a snakebite. There is a folktale about a cat named Muezza, who was found sleeping on the sleeve of Muhammad’s prayer robe. He promised to give his cat a special place in heaven. There is this essence in Kedi in which the residents have the trait of being fond of these felines.

It’s simply amazing to watch how much these people care for these cats. They tell interesting—sometimes funny and/or sad—stories, including how a bakery worker uses his tips for taking trips to the vet because one cat would walk into. A female artist believes that cats “have the femininity that women have lost”. An old man explains how raising kittens helped him get over his nervous breakdown. There is no doubt that cats and humans can have similar traits.

Kedi is a prime example of what it means to be human. I hope this expands throughout the States (and the rest of the world)—so audiences can get an idea of how Istanbulites make a living with the care of a loveable feline on their side. Cat lovers are certainly in for a purr-fect treat (yeah, I had to go there). One of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen!

4/4

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Movie Review: The Zookeeper’s Wife

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Antonia Zabinski (Jessica Chastain) cares for her animals in The Zookeeper’s Wife. (Source: Lebanon Express)

Based on Diane Ackerman’s novel, The Zookeeper’s Wife tells the amazing true story of a Polish family fighting for their lives after their home country has been invaded by Nazi Germany. They saved a lot of people and their animals from the Warsaw Ghetto. New Zealand director Niki Caro, who created two of the most uplifting films of the 21st century—Whale Rider, McFarland, U.S.A.—creates a well-acted, beautifully shot, and occasionally haunting depiction of the beginnings of World War II. However, it feels rather familiar.

Antonia (Jessica Chastain) and Jan Zabinski (Johann Heldenbergh) are the owners of the Warsaw Zoo. They treat their animals like family. Antonia does her morning routine of riding her bike through the zoo with some of her family friends including a dromedary camel during the film’s opening scene (accompanied by Harry Gregson-Williams’ beautiful score). September 1, 1939, seems like another ordinary day until Germany invades Poland, which results in the start of World War II. With many of the animals killed from the attack, the Zabinskis hide in the zoo while saving hundreds of Jews from the Ghetto. Meanwhile, zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl), who happens to be a friend of Hitler’s, snoops around the zoo and offers to take some surviving animals to his zoos in Berlin and Munich.

Caro and screenwriter Angela Workman depict the horrors of the Polish invasion with some effort. The sets and the visuals make it look like a wonderful work of art. Nothing is just as spine-tingling as seeing two lionesses and a tiger roaming around the abandoned streets after the attack or when the German troops put the ghetto in flames. But—one of the problems with The Zookeeper’s Wife is that the tension is hardly there.

With a Polish accent, Chastain’s portrayal the titular role is convincing. With the right amount of optimism and subtlety, it shows how much she cares for those around her after Poland is overrun by the Nazis. In one scene, Antonia is in the basement with a mute Jewish girl Urszula (Shira Haaz), who has been raped. She talks to her about how much she trusts her animals. “You look into their eyes, and you know exactly what is in their hearts,” she says while holding a rabbit. Chastain is a delight!

From playing Austrian F1 racer Niki Lauda in Rush to Zemo in Captain America: Civil War, Brühl gives complexity and fierceness as Lutz Heck. He and Chastain stand out from the rest of the forgettable cast. While it drags and the script can be manipulative at times, and if the characters had more depth, The Zookeeper’s Wife had a lot of potential of being a great movie. One thing for sure, this is nothing compared to Schindler’s List.

2.5/4