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Sundance movie review: 'Sirens' rocks but real life slows documentary's roll

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Sundance movie review: 'Sirens' rocks but real life slows documentary's roll
Lilas Mayassi (left) and Shery Bechara lead the band Slave to Sirens. Photo courtesy of the Sundance Institute

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Were it not for the documentary Sirens showing virtually at the Sundance Film Festival, American audiences likely wouldn't have much chance to hear the band Slave to Sirens. The film itself may be limited by real-life events, but it's worthwhile to discover their music.

Shery Bechara and Lilas Mayassi formed the band Slave to Sirens and play lead guitars for Beirut, Lebanon's, only all female heavy-metal band. Director Rita Baghdadi follows their career and friendship.

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The Glastonbury Music Festival in England invites Slave to Sirens to perform. They prepare for the show and give their all at a sparsely attended outdoor stage. Sirens also shows them composing new songs, rehearsing and filming music videos.

As Baghdadi follows Shery and Lilas in their home lives, Sirens paints a more personal portrait of a struggling band, and struggling young women in Beirut. Lilas is almost 25 and cannot move out, but her mother does not want her to, anyway.

Lilas' mother expects her daughter to live with her until she's married. Lilas wants independence, but this doesn't surprise or deter her mother. Her mother simply thinks she can wait for Lilas to understand the way things are.

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Other gigs cancel on Slave to Sirens because their organizers decide they oppose heavy-metal music. Beirut itself accuses Slave to Sirens of blasphemy, and the band speaks out against violent threats against their performances in a press conference.

Slave to Sirens has supportive friends and fans. Shery and Lilas have been friends since they were kids and practiced guitar together. Lilas credits Shery with creating their melodies. Singer Maya Khairallah, bassist Alma Doumani and drummer Tatyana Boughaba don't get as much screen time.

Tensions arise between Shery and Lilas during rehearsal. It represents the universal friction young adults face as they develop different needs and goals. Thus, it makes Slave to Sirens as universal as the band in Almost Famous.

They mostly speak English throughout, but Sirens is subtitled for when they dip into Lebanese. The music is pretty hardcore, but even if the listener is not a headbanger, one must appreciate the charisma of the performers.

Sirens becomes more about Lilas and Shery's friendship than their music or the culture in which they are trying to perform. That is valid, and Baghdadi can only follow Slave to Sirens when they record or perform. Hopefully, the exposure for this film will land Slave to Sirens more opportunities to create.

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Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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