Lilas Mayassi, Shery Bechara, Maya Khairallah, Alma Doumani, Tatyana Boughab
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
Genuinely engaging with dialogue that feels delicately constructed, cinematic shots of Beirut that showcase its beauty as well as its hardship, complete with rich and complex characters …
The Middle East’s first all-female thrash metal band star in Rita Baghdadi’s documentary Sirens. Lead guitarist Lilas Mayassi states at one point in the film how “any time a woman wants to be anything other than what society wants, it’s always an issue”, setting the scene for how thrash metal is perceived in the Middle East, especially when it is crafted by a group of young, bold, non-conformist women.
Based in Beirut, Lebanon, the 5-piece Slave to Sirens is Lilas Mayassi and Shery Bechara, lead guitarists and co-founders of the band, vocalist Maya Khairallah, bassist Alma Doumani and Tatyana Boughab on drums. The film draws its focus on Lilas and Sherry, focusing on the pair’s layered dynamic, creating music which strays from the societal norm, while Beirut’s social and political unrest plays into everyday life. Touching on themes of friendship, sexuality, purpose, freedom of expression and a love for music and art, Sirens brings a fresh perspective to the current state of self-expression in non-western nations.
Sirens offers a character-rich story while also creating a depiction of Arab women that is far from stereotyped, showcasing the multifaceted people that they are. Documentary filmmaker Rita Baghdadi, who operated both as director and cinematographer, has discussed that her vision of the film was to have Arab women star and not be reduced to subplot. Where they could be empowered young women and the narrative wasn’t just focusing on the hardships occurring in the Middle East. Even with this theme in mind, Beirut bubbles with turmoil throughout the 78-minute documentary.
Absolute powerhouses while performing on stage, Sirens also shares intimate moments of the girls interacting with one another, humming in tune, laughing, drinking and jamming. In one particular moment, the girls reveal online commentary that surrounds their thrash music, calling them sluts and whores and their music blasphemous. While Lebanon is still largely traditional, regions are becoming more progressive, however, metal is still looked upon as Satanic.
The documentary quickly establishes that Lilas and Sherry once had a romantic relationship which blossomed in secret. Although the two are not together during the course of the film, the tension between them is evident. While society’s general consensus to being queer in Lebanon is not explicitly stated, one of the opening shots of the film displays homophobic messages scribed on street walls.
At what feels like the climax of the film, the band reaches boiling point. Lilas and Sherry’s past romantic relationship seems to drive a wedge between the band. Alongside this, the documentary features the horrific explosion that occurred in Beirut in 2020 in one long gut-wrenching shot – tying together the band’s internal struggle with the external world of Lebanon. Lilas follows by commenting how “home doesn’t feel safe; friendship doesn’t feel safe; love doesn’t feel safe.”
Genuinely engaging with dialogue that feels delicately constructed, cinematic shots of Beirut that showcase its beauty as well as its hardship, complete with rich and complex characters, Sirens could almost be mistaken for an indie A24 coming of age film. With that being said, it only seems to skim the surface regarding the stories of these women. With most of the screen time devoted to either Sherry or Lilas, the remaining 3 members of the band receive little to no exploration. It would have been interesting to gain a deeper understanding of the metal scene in Lebanon and discover how the band was initially formed. However, Rita Baghdadi has shaped her footage into something memorable, bringing food for thought to freedom of creative expression that can often be taken for granted.