Bombay Beach Review

Do a quick search for photos of Bombay Beach and you will be stunned by a post-apocalyptic landscape in a land where the end of the world never happened. Looking eerily like a set from Fallout: The Movie, the land does not look like it could support much wildlife, never mind people. Yet, as explored by Israeli filmmaker Alma Har'el, the human beings of all ages that populate the shores of the misnamed Salton Sea offer a complex portrait that mesh perfectly with the Har'el visual approach but makes for a terrific viewing experience nonetheless.

A former resort that has decayed immeasurably, Bombay Beach is home to unusual people, all besieged by a lack of funds and attempting to make a living under the same relentless sun that was once advertised as a warming glow. Har'el focuses on three individuals, but Bombay Beach is as much about them as it is about the director's interpretation of this admittedly unique environment. Red, in his eighties, left the oil fields and somehow wound up at the beach selling cigarettes. CeeJay, meanwhile, having escaped the gang warfare of South Central, harbors dreams of playing football. The youngest of the three, Benny, is a hyperactive boy who spent time away from his family after they were jailed for stockpiling explosives.

Har'el frames their stories as a high-pitched fever dream, an emotional rollercoaster that throws away much chronology and invests in images and music. It is a beautifully looking doc, and the soundtrack, by Beirut and Bob Dylan, comes close to romanticizing this permanently down-on-its-luck community but never does. Sequences featuring the subjects acting out an interpretive dance stand out as beautiful but unnecessary.

The decayed former oasis is reawakened by people struggling to get their life's worth and the filmmaker gets very up close and personal with both the subjects and their significant others (Benny and his family, CeeJay and his crush Jess). Occasionally you may doubt the verisimilitude of Bombay Beach, but trust me, just let it go. More a mood piece than a call to arms, the film remains curious and memorable, much like its subjects.

DVD Bonus Features

A trio of Beirut music videos, all directed by Har'el, are included, along with ten minutes of deleted scenes and seventeen minutes of selected scenes with commentary by the director, editor Joe Lindquist and dance choreographer Paula Present. A theatrical trailer is included, but most appreciated are the trio of featurttes titled “Where Are They Now?” and catching up with the subjects to show whether their station has improved. Has it? Find out for yourself!

"Bombay Beach" is on sale January 17, 2012 and is not rated. Documentary. Directed by Alma Harel. Written by N/A. Starring Various.

Mark Zhuravsky • Staff Writer

I'm a prolific blogger, writer and editor who loves film.


New Reviews