Bombay Beach (2011)

Bombay Beach
Director: Alma Har’el
Part of: This Human World

The movie is a documentary about Bombay Beach, one of the poorest communities in California. It follows Benny Parrish, a young boy who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, CeeJay Thompson, a high school student who hopes for a football scholarship and Red, a frail older man who lives off the cigarettes he sells. Mixed in between are dancing scenes set to the music of Beirut and Bob Dylan.

I went into the film fearing that it would be too exhaustingly artsy for me, that I would be annoyed by Beirut (who I like, but only in small doses and very selectively) and that I’d generally wouldn’t like it. But the concept of mixing documentary with dance intrigued me enough to give it a try anyway. And I’m very glad I did, it’s a beautiful film.

It is pretty obvious that the movie was made without a script but just grew into what it was. It is therefore not very structured. And Alma Har’el gives no additional information to what we see on-screen. Mostly that works very well, but a couple of times I would have liked a bit more background.

Sometimes the movie got a bit lengthy, but Alma Har’el always noticed in time and that’s usually when she hit us with a dance scene. And those dance scenes were wonderful – heartfelt, touching and really, really beautiful. I had tears in my eyes more than once. And the music always fit perfectly.

I especially loved Benny’s segments. Such a fantastic, creative and unfortunately pretty ostracized young boy. It was really heartbreaking sometimes. Both the segments about CeeJay and Red were interesting, but somehow both remained completely in the realm of clichĂ© for me and I therefore didn’t connect as much with them.

It generally felt like Alma Har’el sometimes glossed over things a bit, pushing stuff in the background, though I think she usually did so to save the integrity of the stories she was telling; otherwise it might have become too crowded with issues. Especially Benny’s father probably would have been highly problematic had he been featured more. So that was okay.

Summarising: A beautiful, touching film that I can heartily recommend.

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