There’s a ton of films out there that explore humanity’s symbiotic relationships with animals, from the innocuous sweetness of Beethoven to the whimsical fables of Babe. Ceyda Torun‘s Kedi is a brilliant Turkish documentary that focuses on the wild, independent street cats of Istanbul, lovable, curious creatures who have shared countless bonds with the city’s residents since the dawn of time. A handful of individual felines are shown in the spotlight, each with it’s own distinct personality, behaviour traits and each connected to their own human caretaker or friend. They roam free along the streets, alleys, bazaars and canals of picturesque Istanbul, a place where the hum of the old world still survives, only recently encroached upon by the inevitable advance of technology and progress, an aspect which the film comments on and one that has a big effect on these animals. The film is structured simply and wonderfully: each vignette tells the story of a cat, through the words of their human companion, the auditory component, and visually we see these people and this place through their eyes and interactions they have with all those around them. It’s a brilliant, hypnotic rhythm, accompanied by the soothing tones of traditional/electronic hybrid compositions from musician Kira Fontana, and effortlessly creates an immersive, unique atmosphere. You don’t have to be a cat lover to appreciate (but if you aren’t, you’re not cool in my books already) the bond these creatures share with their environment, as it’s fascinating in a scientific way as well, to observe the behaviours, each species intrinsically connected to each other through eons of shared existence. These aren’t docile house cats either, they’ve got the nomad gene through years of genetic memory, yet still function as creatures of habit, and as one girl remarks on camera, “when they’re confined in a house indefinitely, they lose their ‘catness’.” They are an integral, essential part of Istanbul’s soul though, as we see the healing power they have on those who are sad or broken, the therapeutic friendship they provide to all around them, and the way in which they rekindle people’s ‘slowly dying joy of life’, as another character observes, a thought which hit a bit close to home as I heard it. Some may consider this a small or inconsequential film, but make no mistake: this isn’t just ‘a cute cat documentary’, it’s a meditation on some of the core elements of our mindsets and action, relationships and perceptions that many have forgotten in the modern world, and a reminder that animals are more than just furry friends, rather they are an influential force of nature that shape and change our world, as well as us, every day. One of the very best of the year.