Directed by Rita Baghdadi, Sirens follows Slave to Sirens, one of the first all-female heavy metal bands in the Middle East. The documentary follows their trials and tribulations on the Lebanese music scene while highlighting the challenging relationship between founders and guitarists Lilas Mayassi and Shery Bechara.
In her second feature-length documentary, Baghdadi incorporates a raw aesthetic that complements the grunginess of Slaves to Sirens and provides an unfiltered platform to document the 17 October Revolution. Covertly meeting at night, the band works tirelessly on their album while talking candidly about their frustration with society. Compared with the large-scale protests seen in the background, the band sees their music as a creative outlet for their collective inner rage and repressed anger. While it resembles a similar act of social defiance, Baghdadi retains it as a means for these young women to be both seen and heard. Their music also seems them challenging traditionalism as they believe that women can be live a life without marriage or children. Their fight against conformity mostly lingers in the background but it will adhere to audiences with similar backgrounds, especially as we see Lilas fighting the instilled tradition within her.
Despite the appeal of their empowering values, Baghdadi doesn’t overly focus on the band. Instead, most of Sirens focuses on the relationship between Lilas and Shery, the band’s rhythm and lead guitarist, respectively. Their collaborative dynamic is initially respectful and friendly, with each other acknowledging the creativity of the other. However, their relationship sours when Lilas struggles with her sexuality, which results in her pulling away from the band to focus on her personal happiness. This unsurprisingly causes friction between her and Shery, as well as the inevitable disruption in the band while Lebanon descends into chaos and civil protests. There is some emotional back and forth between the girls that culminate in a tense and bitter argument, but Lilas’ confusion and quiet denial feel contradictory to the band’s message of acceptance and independence, creating an uneven tone to the documentary. Therefore, when things finally come to a head amid the 2020 Beirut explosion, there is an almost cliché sense of clarity and hope as Shery and Lilas realise the depth of their friendship and their common fears for the future.
Overall, Baghdadi’s approach lacks cohesion and there are tonal inconsistencies that affect the message of the film but Sirens is a gritty and insightful look into a unique group of strong-willed women.
Sirens will be premiering in the World Cinema Documentary Competition section at Sundance Film Festival 2022.
Director: Rita Baghdadi
Stars: Lilas Mayassi, Shery Bechara, Maya Khairallah, Alma Doumani, Tatyana Boughaba
Runtime: 78 minutes
Country: USA, Lebanon