Anyone who has been to Istanbul and had not noticed the street cats  must have had their eyes closed. The delightful Turkish documentary ” Kedi” makes a case for how the culture of the city is enhanced by roaming cats, and lots of them. Seven cats star ( I wondered why they did not showcase nine), and their close- ups are purr-fectly emblazoned in the lens of cinematographer Charlie Wupperman. His camera follows mostly at the feline’s eye level, but glorious overhead vistas of Bosporus and the Istanbul rooftops give you a sense of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Waterways crystallize and cat eyes mirror the city’s sparkle. Our filmmaker, Ceyda Torun, was born here, and her ode to these masters of the street will keep you smiling.

The cats themselves dart in and out of everyone’s life. As they explore, snatch food, protect their young and bring a sense of freedom to the city dwellers, these cats mirror the soul of this ancient city. Bengu nearly passes out when she is brushed. Her admiring groomer tells us, “Look at her delight. She knows how to live.” Bengu has been near this family for eight or nine years. She has no collar and is free amid the bustle.

Other residents are interviewed informally. One man, who garners peace from his prayer beads, says that “Cats are aware of God’s existence. Dogs think men are the gods.” One woman tells us that she gets a peculiar sense of security when petting a cat. Energy is absorbed and released.

One lion of a cat patrols the harbor. He is a fish thief, preferring bluefish over mackerel or anchovies. One of our stars is the neighborhood psychopath, a rat chaser. None of the cats compromise their freedom. One man states that this is a quality people should have.

We learn that a few residents scatter twenty pounds of chicken a day to feed sixty or so felines. A whole colon mews and follows. Some are feisty and  tough, and fun. Many residents find therapy in these cat feedings. Istanbul’s pied pipers don’t capture.

The cat stare can mesmerize. You see the cat, and the cat sees you. Whether on ledges, rooftops, baskets, steps or chairs, the eyes have it. Green, gold, amber or blue the Istanbul street cats are not seen as a problem. Many residents use vets and minister eye drops and plungers of milk to keep healthy colonies. Many, also see the aristocratic, strong-willed felines as cafe cats, charming the tea drinkers with their elegance. Being on the same frequency with them elevates moods and life itself.

One young man tells how upset his Muslim father was when after their viewing the film ” The Good, The Bad , and The Ugly”, he and his brother made tiny crosses for graves at the cat cemetery. They were immediately enrolled in Quran courses! They just thought they were respecting death like in the film.” We weren’t Christian, but we thought they were cool, little crosses.”

“Cats” on Broadway was a hit, and this film about cats in Istanbul will be, too.



“The Ottoman Lieutenant”

This Turkish funded American film with a 1960 vibe is still full of follow-your-dream, woman power and on-the-same-page sexuality. The romance of the film suffers with this modern touch. Our idealistic heroine seems a tad  bratty and our handsome Ottoman lieutenant seems to miss a thrust when he asks if she is certain that intimacy is what she wants. But, I get ahead of our somewhat silly tale.

1914 is our setting. First, we are in Philadelphia, which is portrayed as anything but the city of brotherly love. Our young American, Lillie Rowe ( Hera Hilmar ) has  informed her wealthy parents that she is sickened by the injustice heaped on Black Americans , and she is going to follow a young doctor ( Josh Hartnett ) to Turkey to give the mission where he practices nursing services and medical supplies , including her dead brother’s motorized truck. Why Lillie is adamant about crossing seas and ministering in a foreign clime is unclear. “Mother, I will sail to Istanbul! I have booked the passage.” is all the detail we get. Certainly, it is not just because of Dr. Jude, who will soon be thrown over for Ismail, the dashing Ottoman lieutenant, who will escort her through the dangerous terrain.

A fast two months of boats, trains, horses, the motorized truck, and walking gets Lillie to Anatolia, on the Eastern Front, right before the start of WWI. Her military escort in Turkey is our lieutenant. He tells her that she can not be in the men’s section of the train car. There are customs that need to be observed.

As a period piece there are lots of flaws, but the action keeps coming and they escape when bandits steal the supplies and resurface to sell them at the twenty-four bed mission hospital. Here, we meet Dr. Woodruff ( Ben Kingsley) and see the jealousy between Jude and Ismail. Jude warns Lillie, ” He is not your friend. He is here to gather information.” Jude has been hiding guns in the chapel for the Christian Armenians.

Music by Geof Zanelli pushes our emotions Dr. Zivago style, though there is no Lara’s theme to identify. Lillie’s protector is our handsome soldier ( Michael Huisman ) who provides the love triangle, pitting doctor against warrior.

The cinematography is wide-angle lush and, at times, stirring. Horseback rides through waving wheat fields, mountain surrounded  lakes, and sweeping clouds fill many scenes. Istanbul’s mosques, markets and harbors are equally emotionally drawing.

The battles are not large, but more like small bands of Christian Armenian villagers against a few Imperial Ottoman soldiers. The picture has been criticized for down-playing what became one of the first studied genocides of the modern world. Here, our Muslim officer metes out fair release instead of certain death.

Ben Kingsley, as Dr. Woodruff, provides the father figure for the young clinic workers. He had set up the foreign hospital with his wife, and he  has lost her to the cause. He uses ether to drug himself to sleep. He understands love and loss, and recognizes that Lillie has fallen deeply in love with the Ottoman lieutenant.  Neither does he miss the fact that Jude has fallen in love with Lillie.

“The Ottoman Lieutenant” seems like a throwback to the past while trying to change our knowledge of it. Note the ironic Christian doctor Jude’s fight scene, but don’t expect to get a true history from this film. American Director Joseph Ruben and writer Jeff Stockwell had their focus elsewhere. The flashback narration only tells us how Lillie was changed by the world she so heartily wished to change.