HIFF 2022: Sirens

★★★★★ | Sadly, nobody in the band is nicknamed Shredder.

HIFF 2022: Sirens

Helsinki International Film Festival 2022 review: Sirens

There’s a moment late in Sirens that encapsulates the entire picture in one probably-staged-but-so-beautiful-that-you-don’t-care scene.

Two of our heroes share details from the other sordid late-night escapades. They huddle together, all hushed tones and giggles. “We made out,” one professes.

Behind them, a massive protest swells. It has every potential to turn violent, but it’s also so routine by now that it melds into the cityscape. This is their life.

Rita Baghdadis tremendous documentary is full of moments like this. Little details lurk behind the normality that its subjects want to build for themselves. If you ask them, they’d want nothing more than to just make music, date, drink, and not worry about their world literally exploding at any given moment. For them, music is more than just an emotional escape. It’s also a literal one that allows them brief windows to leave and see other countries.

At the same time, Baghdadi’s smart composition never makes her subjects into “others.” This is not a looking-glass type of deal, where we peer into a far-removed world that we can forget once the screening ends. Instead, here documentary is intimate and immediate. It sits on the skin, embracing every difficulty and joy that comes with growing up. It forces us, the happily oblivious Westerners, to experience it all from their subjective point of view.

As a result, Sirens becomes more than just a music documentary. It captures eloquent truths that only people of a certain age can utter with as much simplicity and conviction. Another reviewer once noted that everyone should be so lucky as to experience that young age where Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run makes perfect sense. While his music is as far removed from The Sirens as possible, Baghdadi captures that same longing and frustration in every image of her film.

At the core of the film are two fiercely independent and strong women, Shery and Lilas, who become the natural core of everything in the film. There’s quiet humor in watching them go through the same kind of mediation as Metallica in their famous Some Kind of Monster documentary while in the background, Beirut rages under cataclysmic changes.

Baghdadi never downplays the importance of either, and never belittles her subjects. Instead, that humor comes from the world itself. We never live in convenient times. Our passions can’t wait for other things to settle first. It’s simply and beautifully put, and Baghdadi’s lens allows us momentary objectivity to it.

Not everything is perfect. At just over an hour, Sirens is frustratingly short. Certain events disappear before they even register, which leaves more questions than answers. But more importantly, these are remarkable people who I wanted to spend more time with. They’re at the cusp of something great, and a part of us, as viewers, yearns for a storybook triumph.

But that is more of a selfish gripe than a real one. Wanting more of a good thing only means that whatever there is already succeeds beyond expectation. Sirens is a fantastic slice-of-life documentary, one that achieves every goal it sets for itself. We now know of these incredible people. We’ve heard their music. With any luck, we’re now fans. But most of all, we also have greater empathy and understanding of the big picture. They are just some of many. Their dreams echo with thousands of others in Beirut alone.

In opening the door for this particular siren call, Baghdadi lets in the voices of every unheard youth and adult, yearning for their chance to make something with their lives.