Turkish biopic ‘Bergen’ about slain pop singer is an Arab hit

A Turkish biopic about 1980s pop singer Bergen struggling with an abusive husband who hired someone to pay nitric acid on his face and later shot and killed her, became a dormant box office success throughout West Asia.

Powerful female empowerment film, titled ‘Bergen’, follows singer’s meteoric rise cellist to become Turkey’s ‘arabesque queen’, while struggling with a partner determined to sabotage her career. The picture is directed by Turkish director duo Caner Alper and Mehmet Binay, who are known for his work driven by civil liberties and gender issues such as the 2015 drama “Drawers,” about a teenage girl’s sexuality.

After grossing a substantial admission of over $10 million in Turkish cinemas, “Bergen” is now seeing rapid box office returns in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Lebanon and in Oman. The photo attracted over 300,000 entries and grossed over $4.8 million in these territories since its release on June 16. Ticket sales surged after lackluster opening week admissions of just over 15,000 rose to over 107,000 in the film’s third week, and continue to perform well.

In Turkey, the film sparked controversy and raised awareness of the government’s leniency towards perpetrators of femicide after the country officially left the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe treaty last year. which obliges signatories to combat violence against women. The widespread problem in Turkey was also at the center of Chloe Fairweather’s documentary ‘Dying to Divorce’, which was the UK’s entry for the international race for the 2021 Best Feature Film Oscars.

In Western Asia, “Bergen” does not seem to have caused controversy so far. But the fact that 37% of Arab women have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime, according to a UN report, could be an indicator of its surprise success.

Dubai-based exhibitor and distributor Vox Cinemas calls “Bergen” the most successful Turkish film to be released in the region in recent memory. He also boasts that the film has “made history” as the first Turkish film to be released in Saudi Arabia, where cinemas resumed in 2018 after a decades-long religious ban. Saudi Arabia has since become West Asia’s leading film market.

Turkish singer and actress Farah Zeynep Abdullah (“The Innocents”) plays Bergen, who, as she became one of the most popular singers of the 80s in Turkey, got married a man who beat her and blinded one of her eyes with acid while she was on stage in 1982. After recovering, Bergen became known for wearing an eye patch covered in strands of blonde hair. She also became a symbol of patriarchal violence which later cost her her life when her ex-husband at the time shot her dead in 1989 as Bergen came out of a concert in the city of Adana.

Bergen is dead just a month before his 30th birthdaye anniversary after recording three albums and over 120 songs.

The film’s screenplay is by Turkish feminist novelist Sema Kaygusuz and screenwriter Yildiz Bayazit.

“Bergen has really struck a chord with moviegoers across the region and has exceeded all screenings,” read a statement from Toni El Massih, managing director of Vox’s parent company, Majid Al Futtaim Cinemas.

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