Thy Kingdom Come reveals life in a small town to be grim and dull with only brief moments of happiness.
Javier Bardem plays a priest in this unusual but compelling piece by Eugene Richards that includes elements both documentary and fiction. The priest is a character from Terrence Malik’s 2012 film To The Wonder but he’s having real-life unscripted conversations with local people in a small town in Oklahoma. Richards was a videographer on To The Wonder. He took that footage and created this standalone film. Bardem’s voice is magic and his kindness is real.
The folks he meets with are all at transitional moments in life: a cancer patient, a reformed Klansman, an elderly woman, an inmate waiting for a letter, a young mother whose child drowned while she was sleeping, a man from a trailer park hoping for a job at a gas station, and others. They were informed that Bardem is not a real priest and that the scenes of them might appear in Malick’s film.
“…Bardem is a famous, successful actor and not a priest. The subjects are confessing to him as if he was.“
Short films are generally considered to be under 40 minutes. Thy Kingdom Come clocks in at 43 minutes and it plays more like a TV episode.
This could have gone so wrong. Richards and Bardem ride a fine line between showing a respectful glimpse of hard lives and making a pretentious artsy cartoon at someone else’s expense. It’s tempting to feel the piece as exploitative since Bardem is a famous, successful actor and not a priest. The subjects are confessing to him as if he was. Interestingly, however, he makes a damn fine priest, striking the right notes of quiet receptiveness and non-judgmental compassion. He becomes the perfect neutral sounding board where they can express the depths of their pain. If it is a performance, it’s a great one, same as you’d expect from a priest.
Thy Kingdom Come (2018). Directed by Eugene Richards. Starring Javier Bardem, Callie Elred, Tasia Moore. World Premiere at SXSW 2018.
7 out of 10