directed by Alma Har'el
The recipe for the heady cocktail that is Bombay Beach:
1 part Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus gorgeous surrealism.
2 parts mesmerizing and prismatic familial dysfunction, á la October Country.
A dollop of a deeply profound sense of cosmic mystery and connectivity with all things.
Combine mixture in the scorched wasteland of the Salton Sea. Stir evenly.
Garnish with musical pieces from Beirut and Bob Dylan (to taste).
Savor to the last drop.
Documentary filmmaker Alma Har’el has tried very hard to do what Andrew Douglas did effortlessly in Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, what came naturally to Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri in October Country, what National Geographic seemingly stumbled upon in The Story of the Weeping Camel: that this place we call earth and this state we call existence is a gorgeous, haunting thing full of such mysterious strangeness and deep, deep wonder. Does this mean that Har’el has failed where others have succeeded? Absolutely not. Hard work and a capable eye prevail in this rough and lovely documentary. Amid the wreckage of Bombay Beach, Har’el shines a light on three men in an effort to create a kind of spectrum of life as it persists in the cosmic hardscrabble. A little boy named Benny, coping with dysfunction and the turmoil of his little boy mind. A teenager named CeeJay, working hard to forge a new life for himself as he trades one wild place for another. And Red, the relic of a life hard lived and a state of existence hard earned, carving out a niche for himself as a cigarette peddler in Slab City. Together, they tell the story of life in the down and out, the culture of society on the fringe, and how strong the roots of family and friendship run, even in the unforgiving Southern California desert. Har’el films wonderfully staged musical sequences both to comment on and punctuate her tale, and the result is something that took my breath away at times. Films like this seem to do a better job at telling the big truths than other, more straightforward and factual films seem to do, and a film as relentlessly optimistic as this one finds ways to make you yearn for even the simplest of pleasures. Like the films aforementioned, Bombay Beach is a tough tonic, but well worth the time.