Review: Queer Documentary 'Sirens' a Moving Portrait of a Women Metal Band in Lebanon

by Megan Kearns

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday April 2, 2022

'Sirens'
'Sirens'  (Source:Animal Pictures)

Queer documentary "Sirens" is a moving, effervescent, and intimate portrait of Lebanon's first all-female metal band, Slave to Sirens. The film follows Shery Bechara and Lilas Mayassi, the lead guitarist and rhythm guitarist and the band's founding members.

Directed by Rita Baghdadi, a Moroccan-American filmmaker who also did the camerawork, the documentary premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

We see the band — comprised of five women — perform thrash metal, including at Glastonbury Festival. While we see interactions amongst the entire band, the film, transcending a routine behind-the-scenes music documentary, follows Lilas and Shery and captures the power of expression and making art, the bonds of friendship, and queer women finding their way.

Lilas teaches music to children. Shery says she doesn't know how to express herself without music. Each woman talks about how the other inspires them.

One of the first shots in the film comprises writing on the wall: "Homophobia is a crime. #LGBT" On the news at Lilas's house, we hear about Article 534, a law that would punish queer people for "up to one year in prison." Another broadcast reports that another metal band receives death threats for their songs about gay and trans rights.

Against the backdrop of protests and conflict in Lebanon, tensions and frustrations eventually arise in the band.

Lilas is a queer woman. Her mom talks with her about someday getting married and having children. But Lilas assures her that she's enough on her own. As the film unfolds, we learn Shery is also queer. Lilas and Shery's connection transcended music and friendship; they were in a relationship while in the band. Shery reveals their chemistry, and says Lilas "didn't want the other band members to know" about their relationship and then pushed her away.

When Lilas's girlfriend Alaa visits from Syria, Lilas tells her not to call her "babe" in front of her mom. Wrestling with internalized homophobia, Lilas says after being with Shery, she worried about society and what other people thought about her queerness. She talks about intergenerational trauma and not feeling safe at home, in friendships, or in love.

A beautiful scene of Lilas and Sherry swimming in the glinting sea evokes thoughts of freedom, a life lived without queerphobic constraints.

The gorgeous cinematography and hypnotic, ethereal electronic score by Para One — along with Lilas and Shery's slow and rhythmic guitar playing — infuses the film with a dreamlike aesthetic. The sharp, yet fluid, editing by Grace Zahrah often made me forget that it's a documentary, not a narrative film.

Freedom is a cornerstone of the dynamic and poignant documentary, and of metal as well. In an interview, Lila says, "We're living in this cycle of fear. And our band is the only outlet for us, to be who we want to be without any limits." Freedom for the women of "Sirens" means to make the art they want, to share the queer love they want, and the freedom to embrace themselves.

"Sirens" screens on Monday, April 11 at the 2022 Wicked Queer Boston Film Festival.