Filmed against the backdrop of the impoverished Salton Sea. Bombay Beach, once promised to be a prosperous holiday destination, now amounts to nothing more than derelict buildings that reflect the lives of the hopeless misfits that occupy the town. The documentary focuses on the lives of three of the inhabitants; Benny Parrish, a young boy troubled with bipolar disorder, CeeJay Thompson, an aspiring athlete and old timer Red.
Dreamlike in tone and with a bleached, almost colourless palette, Bombay Beach follows an adorable if Ritalin-fuelled boy called Benny, a lovelorn high-school football star named CeeJay and Red, an octogenarian who has the snap and smarts that occasionally puts you in mind of a virulent Jerry Lee Lewis. It’s hard to believe this once prosperous Californian town set on a rift lake called The Salton Sea is a living example of modern life in America, ravaged by poverty, cigarettes and booze, the broken-down buildings a metaphor for the disintegration of the inhabitants’ lives. Alma Har’el, however, uncovers the place’s raw beauty with a blend of observational work and passages of choreographed dance. It sounds absurd, but it emits a rare and powerful hold, making it quite unforgettable.
The fact that Alma Har’el is still stuck in music video director mode makes for an interesting new breed of documentary.
Reviewed by Phil Wilding