Bombay Beach first came to my attention in February when I read an excellent piece in The Guardian by Xan Brooks.
Unable to catch its short cinematic run I had forgotten about Bombay Beach until recently when it popped back into my mind and I added it to my LoveFilm queue. And I’m glad I did. It’s an outstanding indie documentary well worth your time.
The film tells three stories of people living in the dilapidated Californian desert town of Bombay Beach. It’s a community time seems to have forgotten, and an area that resembles a third world country rather than the notions of Hollywood opulence that one might have of California. Bombay Beach focuses on an ex-con mother now doing the best for her children (among them a ten year old on a cocktail to drugs to stunt his behavioural problems), an old-timer who barely has enough money to live, and a teenager who has escaped the gang culture of LA and is now striving for a college football scholarship.
What director Alma Har’el manages to do is juxtapose the hostile environment with tales of optimism. It’s an affecting film because there’s an inherent sadness in everything surrounding the wonderful characters on screen. Coming from a music video background, Har’el infuses the film with a contemplative artful style. The stories are presented elliptically, with stunning cinematography and reflective music from Bob Dylan and indie band Beruit being used wonderfully in a contemplative and mournful way. Occassional shots of animals decomposing in the streets acts as a metaphor for the whole town’s steady decay, and with a lack of healthcare death is never far away for Bombay Beach’s older residents.
Watching Bombay Beach recalled in one respect Louis Theroux’s documentaries which often expose a neglected and odd aspect of Americana, while it also brought to mind Harmony Korine’s Gummo, a similarly elliptical look at an American underclass amidst a mercurial landscape. While Korine’s film was fiction first but felt very real in its casting of local actors, Bombay Beach is heartbreakingly real but in it’s well crafted stories feels almost like fiction.