I always look for moments in art where reality and fiction merge, and where conventional limits of visual representation transcend each other. Eugene Richards movie Thy Kingdom Come offers these moments. "It's a strange kind of documentary where the main character is not real, while all the others are," the director himself said in an interview in connection with his retrospective exhibition Eugene Richards: The Run-On of Time # > by ICP Museum i New York. The exhibition, which lasted from September 27, 2018 to January 20 this year, was featured in the January issue of New Time.
Richards is the award-winning photographer whose work is often compared to photographer and documentary filmmaker Robert Franks, but also to the photographic essays of W. Eugene Smith. He has a background as a photojournalist, and has developed his own style through unparalleled closeness to his objects. His photographs – whether from an operating room at an emergency room, or from inside a psychiatric hospital in Mexico – are motivated by his sincere care for others.
I Thy Kingdom Come he gives voice to ordinary people who are largely invisible in today's United States: a cancer patient with pain that is barely to bear; a depressed drug addict; a mother who accidentally killed her younger child by an elder; an overweight woman who was brutally abused as a child; a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. Javier Bardem, who plays the role of priest in the documentary, puts it this way: "Is this a true story? Yes, I would say that. Is the priest a real priest? No, but it almost seems like they have been waiting for him. ”
"It's a strange kind of documentary where the main character is not real,
while all the others are. " Eugene Richards
The film is made up of footage Richards made seven years ago when he worked for director Terence Malik and the fiction film To the Wonder. His job was to find local residents in a small Oklahoma town willing to participate in Malik's film, then film them while talking to the priest in the documentary. Then they would use the recordings to produce short vignettes that could later be woven into the final product. "But," Richards says, "when people started talking, they kept talking and talking. They all knew that he [Bardem] was an actor, but that didn't change anything, they wanted to tell his story. " In this way, Richards received far more footage than was needed for Malik's project. When Richards got the rights to the footage, he made his own movie.
An indomitable hope of salvation
Together with Thy Kingdom Comedirector Sam Richards organized Eugene Richard's individual stories into sequences that partially blend into each other. Bardem is present in each of them – dressed as a priest – but constantly in the background of the story. What really makes the film extraordinary is the visual perspective, which is created by placing the camera below eye level. In this way, the look between Bardem and the persons can remain undisturbed. The camera becomes an extension of the hand instead of the eye. The viewer stays close to the faces of those who speak, while the low camera angle indicates respect and sympathy. At the same time you can see the immediate surroundings – not just the faces of the people, but their hands or feet, even toys, pillows and blankets, the notebook in the priest's hands. The camera barely moves; things often fill the picture frame and bring the visual representation closer.
Since the footage does not mimic a "natural" perspective, we are faced with a world that is well-known and yet unknown. The result is incoherent and fragmented. I don't want to ruin someone else's movie experience by revealing too much, but let me just say that not all people are ready to open themselves to the priest. They all try to explain their situation by talking about the past, and they have all kept the hope of salvation – hence the title: Thy Kingdom Come. But what is most surprising about the stories is not the hope of these people, but rather the violence that surrounds them. The film's fragmented character almost makes it feel and feel.
See also our article on photo exhibition in NYC with Eugene Richards by Truls Lie