Bombay Beach (4 stars)

Bombay Beach

Half real, half dream-like American documentary from director Alma Har'el

(Cert tbc) 80min

There was a time when documentary at least generally gave the impression of being a medium distinct from fiction, where various movements (Direct Cinema, cinema verité) put their faith in the relative objectivity of the image, as opposed to the fiction film where everything was obviously made up. But now, for better and for worse, much documentary puts the whole problem of truth into question (Catfish, Exit Through the Gift Shop, I’m Still Here all indebted perhaps to Orson Welles’s F for Fake). Director Alma Har’el though doesn’t want us to question the truth, but refuse the fact, as she searches out the emotional subtleties of lives that could easily be presented in the crudest manner.

Har'el focuses on Bombay Beach in Southern California, a man-made sea that was once a vacation spot for the rich and privileged, but is now occupied by the poor. The film explores both the lives and location, happily fictionalising, fantasising and creating an often dream-like atmosphere as she tries to get closer to the people she films. Indeed it is one of those works, like the recent The Arbor, Self Made and perhaps Dreams of a Life, that wants to find an empathic space as it explores the nuances of feeling more important than any notion of documentary truth. But Har’el’s is also a beautiful film, with crepuscular lighting Terrence Malick could envy.

Selected release from Fri 3 Feb.

Bombay Beach Trailer

Bombay Beach

  • 4 stars
  • 2011
  • US
  • 1h 20min
  • Directed by: Alma Har'el
  • UK release: 3 February 2012

Documentary about Bombay Beach in southern California, once a vacation spot for the rich but now occupied by the poor. Director Har'el seeks to empathise with her subjects, happily fictionalising and fantasising in this dream-like film with crepuscular lighting Terrence Malick would envy.

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