On the surface, Sirens is a documentary about the trials and tribulations of an all-female metal group based in Beirut, Lebanon. Given the country’s attitude towards women and misgivings about metal, this alone would likely make for a compelling film: a document of a brave collection of women bucking conventional wisdom and conservative mores, picking up instruments, forming a band, playing what some backwater shit hammers still believe is the devil’s music as they make a name for themselves at home and abroad, despite having almost every card imaginable stacked against them in the form of parents, authorities, finances, recording opportunities, distribution capabilities and bog standard of polite Lebanese society.
But Sirens is much more than a music doc. In fact, despite the band being placed under the filmmaker’s microscope, Slave to Sirens being a decent enough sounding group with a lone EP comprising their discography, their music is just a backdrop for the variety of areas this film covers and avenues it travels. The context in which Slave to Sirens are trying to establish an identity and carve out their goals, which includes the hopes of making a name for themselves internationally, is framed by and runs concurrently with the fact that two members, Lilas Mayassi and Shery Bechara—who just so happen to be the rhythm/lead guitar tandem, main songwriters and de facto leaders—are an on-and-off again queer couple whose volatile relationship often spills over into the creative process and band business.
In addition to the internal strife simultaneously powering and gutting the band’s heart and creativity, Slave to Sirens exists at a tumultuous time when the proverbial winds of change appear to be sweeping across Lebanon. Included alongside scenes of the quintet tearing it up on local stages and at an ill-advised and demoralizing appearance at Earache’s stage at Glastonbury—who goes to Glastonbury to see metal?—and during bedroom songwriting sessions, are scenes of mass demonstrations in the capital city against the government and regime, of people clamouring for freedom and equal rights for the LGBTQ community, of Mayassi’s mother giving her a hard time for still living at home and being unwed and childless, and multiple manifestations of the discontent expressed when the guitarist says, “Anytime a woman wants to be something other than what society wants, it’s always an issue.”
These juxtapositions are probably best exemplified during the scene in which the six-string slinging duo are casually, but quietly, discussing attending an all-night LGBTQ dance party which included copious amounts of drinking, making out and “spank me harder daddy-type sex” while what I presume is some police/military/morality squad skulks in the background as a demonstration to demand the fall of the regime mobilizes in the street right next to them. With these three very different things happening in plain sight and within a few feet of one another, it’s no wonder there’s conflict and confusion at every turn in the ladies’ personal, professional, relational and creative lives.
Everything is at a crossroads in Sirens, and Slave to Sirens is just a microcosmic example of the struggle for progress against strong-armed convention in a country that has been too long been throttled by religious zealotry. Change is afoot at all turns. The band may have been denied a gig at a local venue because they play metal, but a few scenes later, the two guitarists are shown appearing on Lebanese TV playing Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” with a symphony orchestra. They received a cold shoulder from a local music conference, but that is counteracted by the joy they experience as they read aloud from a Revolver magazine feature on them. There are scenes of someone I believe to be Shery’s father encouraging her to continue thrashing ‘til death’ while Lilas’ mother does her best to keep oppression alive at home.
Many of the problems facing Slave to Sirens aren’t unique to life in a band: personal squabbles, creative differences, wavering dedication (at press time, we found out that drummer Tatyana Boughaba and vocalist Maya Khairallah have recently both left the group), and all the stuff that people will tell you makes being in a band like being married to multiple people at once. Sometimes it seems like what the members are going off about is maxed-out angsty whininess. But when looked at through the lens of what this lot has to endure (not to mention having cameras following them around and invading their personal space and private lives), it’s no surprise that it’s a pressure cooker situation with blowouts on the back end. But Slave to Sirens’ fight depicted in Sirens mirrors the fight the youth, new generations and embittered oppressed are engaged in with the powers that be as they introduce progress to a nation that’s itself at a crossroads.
Director: Rita Baghdadi
Producer: Rita Baghdadi, Camilla Hall
Writer: Rita Baghdadi
Starring: Shery Bechara, Alma Doumani, Lilas Mayassiy
Distributor: Oscilloscope Laboratories
Release Date: September 30, 2021 (Theaters)
Run Time: 78 minutes
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