At the film's start, Har'el uses 1950s promotional footage showing the inland sea as a vacation oasis with luxe hotels, speed boats and clean beaches.
Cut to Har'el's own footage of Bombay Beach today, revealing abandoned buildings, derelict yachts and a shore strewn with detritus, including skeletal remains of fish and other creatures who can't survive the lake's super salination.
Run down and remote, Bombay Beach is an odd place to live.
Cast of Characters and Their Daily Lives
Representing the urgencies that occur at three different phases of life, Har'el's lead characters have iconic overtones. Their stories, each with a unique outcast twist, are compelling. And, Har'el, an extraordinarily gifted cinematographer with a keen eye for ironic details, captures them in uncannily revealing moments, as Red nurses his whiskey, Cee-Jay feels first love and Benney pops pills and dons a bright pink wig to pretend he's a girl.
Set within the surrealistic surroundings of remote and rundown Bombay Bay, with its stunning and timeless landscape of desert blight, these characters and their odd behavior are unfailingly fascinating fare for a verite filmmaker.
The sequence is well choreographed, exquisitely shot and definitely memorable, but it's a device invented by Har'el to express Benney, rather than something Benney has found as an expression of himself. CeeJay and his girlfriend dance with white masks. Red has a romantic dance, too.
These sequences are not unlike other non-verite elements that have been successfully used in other documentaries: In Protagonist, Jessica Yu uses a Greek chorus of puppets to act out voice over comments made by her lead characters. In Waltz With Bashir, Ari Folman replaces his characters' real countenances with animated figures. And, in The Arbor, Clio Bernard has actors on camera to lip synch audio-only interviews.
In these examples, the use of conceits usually found in narrative films is justified and extremely effective. The filmmakers filled what would otherwise be a void in their documentaries and/or they fortified their film's underlying theme or message.
A Question of Authenticity
The distinction I'm making is not one of semantics. Documentaries demand authenticity of place and of person. The dance sequences in Bombay Beach are authentic Har'el. Cinematically, they're lyrical, lovely and pleasing, but they're sadly lacking in authenticity. They may add to the film's beauty and give it a distinctive style, but they lessen its impact.
If You Like This Film, You Might Also Like:
- The Cool School
- Lost Bohemia
- Desert of Forbidden Art
- Encounters At the End Of The World
- Waste Land
- Nostalgia For The Light
- In The Footsteps of Marco Polo