Wander around any city, especially an ancient city like Istanbul, and you get the sense of the many footsteps that have gone before you. Hasret explores, in part, this “palimpsest” (as Ben Hopkins, the film’s writer, director and narrator, calls it) – that sits behind the shiny new shopping centres and high rises, and is marked by the millions of lives that have lived in the city over its long history.
Part travelogue, part social document, part fantasy, Hasret starts off as a kind of rough guide to Istanbul but slips steadily into the darkness becoming, at one point, more like a found footage supernatural thriller. Hopkins blurs the boundaries between fiction and fact, between established film genres, and between the many subjects of his film (cats feature strongly as do, among many other things, the followers of the ancient Alevi religion, the city’s architecture, political graffiti, music, rubbish collectors, hidden workers and ghosts). Dreamlike and at times disconcerting, it’s also punctuated by self-referential humour. “What’s this film actually about?” challenges one of the crew during the filming, and Hopkins looks suitably confused himself as he tries to answer.
Ultimately though, this is a story about a battle for the soul of the city as the rise of gentrification and “regeneration” threaten some of the city’s oldest suburbs and the people who live there. And it’s also a love story. Hopkins met and fell in love with his wife in this city, and it’s clear that it has captured his heart and he will never be able to truly leave it behind.