A Turkish biopic about 1980s pop singer Bergen, who grappled with a violent husband that hired someone to pour nitric acid on her face and later shot and killed her, is becoming a sleeper box office hit across West Asia.
The potent female empowerment film, titled “Bergen,” follows the singer’s meteoric rise from cello player to becoming Turkey’s “Queen of Arabesque,” all while struggling with a partner hellbent on sabotaging her career. The pic is helmed by Turkish directorial duo Caner Alper and Mehmet Binay, who are known for works driven by civil liberties and gender issues such as the 2015 drama “Drawers,” about a teenage girl’s sexuality.
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Upon grossing a substantial $10 million-plus intake at Turkish cinemas, “Bergen” is now scoring brisk box office returns across Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Lebanon and Oman. The pic has drawn more than 300,000 admissions and made more than $4.8 million in these territories since its June 16 release. Ticket sales have jumped after lacklustre opening week admissions of just over 15,000 grew to more than 107,000 during the film’s third week, and continue to perform well.
In Turkey, the film sparked controversy and heightened awareness of the government’s lenience towards perpetrators of femicide after the country last year formally left the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe treaty that requires signatories to fight violence against women. The widespread issue in Turkey was also at the center of Chloe Fairweather’s documentary “Dying to Divorce,” which was the U.K. entry for the 2021 best international feature film Oscar race.
In West Asia, “Bergen” does not seem to have prompted any polemics so far. But the fact that 37% of Arab women have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime, according to a U.N. report, could be one indicator of its surprise success.
Dubai-based exhibitor and distributor Vox Cinemas is calling “Bergen” the most successful Turkish movie to be released in the region in recent memory. It’s also boasting that the film has “made history” as the first Turkish film to be released in Saudi Arabia, where moviegoing resumed in 2018 after a decades-long religion-related ban. Saudi has since become West Asia’s top movie market.
Turkish singer and actor Farah Zeynep Abdullah (“The Innocents”) plays Bergen, who, as she rose to become one of the most popular female vocalists in the ’80s in Turkey, married a man who beat her and blinded one of her eyes with acid while she was on stage in 1982. After she recovered, Bergen became known for wearing an eye-patch covered by wisps of blond hair. She also became a symbol for the patriarchal violence that subsequently claimed her life when her then ex-husband shot her to death in 1989 while Bergen was leaving a concert in the city of Adana.
Bergen died just one month shy of her 30th birthday after recording three albums and over 120 songs.
The film’s screenplay is by feminist Turkish novelist Sema Kaygusuz and screenwriter Yildiz Bayazit.
“Bergen has really struck a chord with movie lovers across the region and surpassed all projections,” reads a statement by Toni El Massih, managing director of Vox’s parent company Majid Al Futtaim Cinemas.
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