Thy Kingdom Come is an offshoot of To the Wonder, the Terrence Malick film in which Javier Bardem plays a priest. He reprises that role here in a documentary/fiction hybrid and “ministers” to individuals on the margins, the poor, sick and imprisoned.

While Baredem is the only actor in this 40-minute film, it’s not a deceit. The real people that he meets with are aware that he is playing a priest, but their confessions feel as real as if we were a fly in a confessional booth. Their vulnerability is heartbreaking, from a child’s accidental death to a young mother losing a slow and painful battle with cancer. These are stories that, in one way or another, we have all felt.

The subjects will capture your heart, but Bardem will engage your mind, not just with his performance but with his very presence. In the post-screening Q and A, director Eugene Richards talked about the decision to cast Bardem instead of using a real priest: “It created a problem.” But it also created an opportunity—and a freedom of sorts—for the subjects to be themselves and say what they really feel. Bardem exercises admirable restraint, favoring silent presence over comforting words. In the process, he and the film reveal the longing that so many people have to simply be seen and heard and touched.

Thy Kingdom Come is an experiment, but it’s an experiment that works. It is a reminder that so many of our neighbors are carrying so much pain, suffering silently as they wait to be heard. It’s also a lesson (and an encouragement) for us would-be caregivers to be more fully present to them.

Thy Kingdom Come has its world premiere in the Visions section here at SXSW.