Shot in the dusty desert of California, where the Salton Sea was once intended as a getaway oasis and is now a near-abandoned ghost town, the hybrid film “Bombay Beach” is more lyrical tone poem than straightforward documentary.
Directed and shot by the Israeli-born photographer and video artist Alma Har’el, the film interweaves footage of residents in their real, regular lives and also captured in staged reveries of dance while following three subjects: a young boy, an old man and a transplant from South Central Los Angeles looking for a fresh start.
This gives “Bombay Beach” an unusual feeling of bringing together past and future in an uncertain present, as the three stories, their subjects dealing with their own individual struggles, somehow intertwine into something broader.
Working with choreographer Paula Present, Har’el finds a way for people who are not dancers to express themselves physically, often saying with their bodies things they are perhaps not even capable of putting into words. Her use of music is particularly sensitive, whether it be the juxtaposition of a youthful Bob Dylan singing “Tomorrow Is a Long Time” against images of an elderly man facing loneliness and his own mortality, or the voice of the older, mystically wizened Dylan singing his “Series of Dreams” to fantastical imagery of a young boy at play on a fire truck.
“Bombay Beach.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes. At Laemmle’s Sunset 5, West Hollywood.