One of the more unexpected spin-offs of the last few years, Eugene Richards‘ “Thy Kingdom Come” is a pseudo-documentary pieced together from excised footage of Javier Bardem’s character Father Quintana from Terrence Malick’s 2012 film “To The Wonder.” Richards, a famous photographer in his own right, was contacted by Malick to find real people to interact with Bardem’s character. “Thy Kingdom Come” follows actor Bardem, as the priest, as he visits real people in Oklahoma who, despite understanding the artifice of the situation, open up to him.
This type of context is somewhat necessary to understanding Richard’s film, as the film eschews any type of exposition, instead choosing to drop the viewer into a series of overlapping conversations between Bardem’s priest and, among many others, a former Klansman, an elderly overweight woman, a woman reeling from the death of her children, and a series of inmates. The people chosen all seem to be at crossroads in their life, unsure of where to go next.
Running only 42 minutes (with credits), the film begins with a short voice-over by Bardem announcing both the “true story” and “fake priest” aspects before jumping right into the homes and lives of the subjects. The conversations are elliptical, and if you didn’t know that Bardem was an actor, you’d be inclined to believe that he actually was a priest. Bardem’s a patient and receptive interviewer that really creates a non-judgemental environment. “Thy Kingdom Come” embraces a silent contemplative mode that most documentarians would have edited out. For a film with such a short running time, Richards really lets each scene breathe.
In all, “Thy Kingdom Come” feels both incomplete, and exactly like what you’d expect a Malick film to be if the scenes were allowed to play in full. The film purposely never builds to anything other than a brief window into these lives, making for an interesting series of scenes, but a disconnected whole. The documentary also provides a window into what could’ve been. Bardem’s character in “To The Wonder” seemed so fragmented and underdeveloped, it was often confusing as to why he was part of the story. “Thy Kingdom Come” reclaims that great performance, while allowing often marginalized subjects the chance to share their story. [B]
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