If ever there was a movie that grabs you by the shorthairs, it’s Ceyda Torun’s “Kedi.” It’s catnip for felinophiles, purr-fectly telling the story of Istanbul’s love affair with the thousands of feral kitties roaming the city’s ancient streets like they own the place. And they pretty much do. Just ask the people who live there, which is exactly what Torun does in crafting one of the most adorably gritty documentaries you’ll ever see about catkind’s kindest friends.

It’s a real Rum Tum (heart) Tugger, as Torun follows seven cats as they go through their daily routines of snatching vittles from cafes, feeding newborn litters and staking out territory in every conceivable makeshift shelter. But the tail, err tale, is really about the colorful humans who look out for them, sprinkling kibble on the sidewalk, letting them prowl through their shops and apartments at will and running up large tabs with the local vets anytime one of the furry guys grows ill, usually from a dustup with a rival or the population’s biggest scourge — cancer.

Where dog lovers would no doubt see pestilence, the people of Istanbul see warmth and companionship from these four-legged ambassadors of unconditional love. The temptation, many say, is to take them in as pets, but that would deny the cats their freedom, which is something the people of Turkey know all too much about living as they do in a compromised democracy. So they let them have the run of the city, which is great for restaurant owners, but death on mice and rats.

It’s also great for us, as Torun makes us see the important role animals play in wanting us to be better people, tapping our instincts for empathy and our craving for affection. It’s a two-way love affair that’s existed since the days of the Ottoman Empire, when cargo ships from across Europe and the Middle East would sail into Istanbul loaded to the top deck with mousers. Once in dock, many of the cats would leap from the boats and take up permanent residence in the city, eventually becoming as essential to the landscape as the Hagia Sophia.

With invaluable assists from editor Mo Stoebe and cinematographers Charlie Wuppermann and Alp Korfali, Torun provides an intriguing cat’s-eye view of the vibrant streets of Istanbul, where delectable treats and dangers lurk around every corner. It gets to the point that on the rare occasion when “Kedi” (Turkish for cat) provides a street scene free of cats, you instinctively search the peripheries waiting for a ball of fur to suddenly appear. And when they don’t, you’re slightly disappointed.

So don’t be surprised if one of these personable cats sneaks his or her way into your heart — just like they have the people of Istanbul. When one cat lover tells us that without the felines her city would be soulless and empty, you believe her because these aren’t everyday household pets. They are God-like in their ability to raise the joy and the spirits of a city simply by giving its people what they need most — paws for thought.

“Kedi”
A documentary by Ceyda Torun featuring the feral cats of Istanbul. In Turkish with English subtitles.
(Not rated.)
Grade: A-