Striking, quirky, charming and eccentric; video artist and photographer Alma Har’el’s debut feature is a tender, often funny and sometimes heartbreaking portrait of the residents of California’s Salton Sea.
The rusting relic of a failed 1950s development boom, the Salton Sea is a barren Californian landscape often seen as a symbol of the failure of the American Dream. A sea in the middle of the Colorado desert.
Director Alma Har’el visits this poetically fruitful terrain in her distinctive documentary Bombay Beach, and finds there a motley cast including a bipolar seven-year-old, a lovelorn high school football star, and an octogenarian poet-prophet. Together they make up a triptych of American manhood in its decisive moments, populating the Salton Sea’s land of thwarted opportunity.
True to her roots as a photographer, video artist, and music video director, Har’el crafts here an adamantly atypical and artistically innovative film—a dreamlike poem that sets the personal stories of these distinctive yet familiar characters to a stylized amalgam of observational documentary and choreographed dance, with music by Beirut and Bob Dylan, all cast against the atmospheric scenery of the titular ghost town. The result is a moving and surreal documentary experience—an evocative, symbolic portrait of rural America and its inhabitants.