Cuddle up with cat documentary Kedi

Kedi provides an idealised view of the cat-human union, while the hunt for a stolen dog drives Once Upon A Time In Venice

The people of Istanbul and the city's hundreds of thousands of street cats have a special relationship - the cats belong to no one and so they belong to everyone.

The documentary Kedi (PG, 79 minutes, opens on Saturday at The Projector, 3.5/5 stars) - the title is "cat" in Turkish - follows the lives of seven animals, each one loved by one human, often several. As the film shows, monogamy is not in a cat's nature.

In this beautifully photographed and warmly human portrait, there is no all-seeing David Attenborough- like narrator, only the voices of the people whose daily routines intersect with those of the animals, which come and go as they please.

A pastry chef, fisherman, cafe owner, artist, housewife, craftsman and, yes, a pair of stereotypical cat ladies are interviewed. They express feelings that flicker from exasperation to love and back again, sounding like people yoked in marriage to a spoilt, beautiful spouse who is hell to live with, but without whom life would be unthinkable.

No matter how many belly scratches and choice tidbits the humans lavish on their four-legged friends, the outside is where the cats yearn to be. Istanbul's streets are where cats get to be cats, patrolling, hunting, fighting and feeding kittens hidden in crevices.

Former Istanbul resident and director Ceyda Torun, working with cinematographer Charlie Wuppermann, takes a cat's-eye view of the city, from up on the rooftops, balconies and treetops, and down to its sewers, where one particular good ratter earns its keep from a grateful restaurant owner.

Kedi (above) is a documentary about seven cats in Istanbul. PHOTO: CATHAY-KERIS FILMS

Torun takes a romantic, idealised view of the cat-human union. You will not find anything factual or scientific here, say, about the effect of feral cats on wildlife populations or any message about neutering.

But she makes a compelling emotional argument for sharing urban spaces with another species - if we give cats our pavements, they will give us back our souls.

Sam Worthington and Odeya Rush in The Hunter’s Prayer (above). PHOTO: TERMITE FILMS

There is a cat-and-mouse game afoot in The Hunter's Prayer (NC16, 91 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2.5/5 stars). Sam Worthington is Lucas, a hitman with a sudden attack of conscience. Instead of killing his target Ella (Odeya Rush), he becomes her protector, shielding her from other assassins.

Imagine a Jason Statham movie with 50 per cent more grimness, with the humour and gongfu dialled down to nearly zero and you might come close to this film's dour tone. Director Jonathan Mostow (U-571, 2000; Surrogates, 2009) strives to make Lucas a tortured anti-hero, a man forced to do the right thing against his better judgment.

Another trait this shares with Statham's flicks is the long car trip across Europe, probably to earn tax credits from as many governments as possible. Gunfights with goon squads punctuate the journey, with the added benefit of letting Ella and Lucasdeliver backstory during the quieter moments of the drive.

Marks must be given for how this is a character-driven project. But despite the attempt to make each person fully rounded, none of it feels fresh or engaging.

Adam Goldberg (far left) and Bruce Willis in Once Upon A Time In Venice. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Fresh and engaging is precisely what crime comedy Once Upon A Time In Venice (M18, 94 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2/5 stars) tries to be, but that attempt is foiled by bad jokes and worse casting.

Disgraced cop-turned-private eye Steve (Bruce Willis), a fixture in the colourful Venice Beach community in which he lives, is having a terrible week. The home of sister-in-law Katey (Famke Janssen) has been burgled and his cherished pet dog is stolen. His pal, surf-shop owner Dave (John Goodman), and assistant, John (Thomas Middleditch), are roped into the search.

Mark and Robb Cullen, the writing-directing brothers behind this project, are aiming at an Elmore Leonard comedy in the vein of Get Shorty (1995). Just as Shorty was a send-up of Hollywood vanity in the guise of a crime comedy, this story is a gentle satire of Los Angeles' Venice Beach community, as much as it is about a dog hunt. The film-makers must be having a private chuckle over how this is a shaggy dog story in all senses of the phrase.

The movie has some charm despite the groan-worthy broadness of the comedy. And it does get extremely broad: Picture a troupe of punch-throwing drag queens as well as Steve skateboarding in the nude for what feels like an eternity.

What sinks this project is Willis as the protagonist. The film-makers write Steve as a man with bags of easy-going charm, a Sam Rockwell type. Willis, on the other hand, thinks Steve should look depressed, when he is not smirking. You can guess whose opinion prevailed.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2017, with the headline 'The bond between animals and man'. Print Edition | Subscribe