Written and directed by Rita Baghdadi, Lilas and Shery, co-founders and guitarists of the Middle East’s first all-female metal band, wrestle with friendship, sexuality and destruction in their pursuit of becoming thrash metal rock stars.
When you imagine a film about a metal band, you’re probably picturing something very different to Sirens. Instead of sex and drugs, what you get is a touching and youthful portrayal of music, friends and conflict. The overall tone of the film is permeated by the band’s commitment to the music, their drive to build a career and the true joy they take from it. One of the great things about Rita Baghdadi’s style with this film is that it never forgets their age, it plays out in a way that respects the other issues of sexuality, independence and anxiety that they’re going through. It keenly explores how they deal with not only their personal problems but frustrations with their country through the music. Diving into how in a place with no real freedom of expression, they can get it all out on stage and are lost without it.
It would have been helpful to explore that aspect more, to add context to the struggles of Beirut and Lebanon. Without a prior knowledge it does soften the impact of including images of protest and conflict, it still adds to the journey of the band but there was room to expand. It’s one of the only weak points to the film, the only additional being the way that it deals with its ending. It chooses to wrap things up more simply than expected, becoming a slightly sentimental montage which feels a touch too easy. However, neither of those things undermine the terrific style and energetic atmosphere Baghdadi brings to the film. It’s continually moving forward, it covers a large chunk of time but doesn’t feel like it’s rushing, it’s edited well to use it’s time effectively.
One of the more compelling aspects of the film is how it deals with sexuality, the film slowly becomes an exploration of queer youth. Within that are two sides, one of rejection and vulnerability and one of denial and aggression, both of which are intensely relatable. It’s such a fascinating contrast for them to be sensitive and sweet people performing aggressive, riotous music. It’s a classic example of not judging a book by its cover. It may not explore all of the members as much as the two who began the band but it captures the strength of their relationship. They’re all confident and charismatic, it’s genuinely enjoyable to watch them at work both on and off the stage.
Sirens is a surprisingly touching and vibrant exploration of a burgeoning band. Instead of following a search for fame and fortune, it follows a group of intensely passionate and talented young women who use their music to express themselves in a restrictive society. You could make an easy comparison between this documentary and a coming of age film, they learn life lessons, work through arguments, follow their passions and discover more about themselves along the way.