The Farming Life, Detail by Painstaking Detail, in Agrarian Utopia


Uruphong Raksasad’s Agrarian Utopia is the most heavily process-oriented film to hit screens in recent years. Recalling Lisandro Alonso’s 2001 La Libertad, which set the tone for a subsequent decade’s worth of minutiae-observant doc/fiction hybrids, Utopia details a seemingly endless variety of farmland tasks from threshing grain to skinning rats. Shot on a rented piece of Thai farmland with local non-actors, Raksasad’s film follows a small group of land-tillers as they attempt to reap a share of profit from rice harvesting. Alternating scenes of artisanal farming with discussions of recent political upheaval and economic woes, the film makes clear the importance of earning a material stake in one’s own toil. “To work for someone else, we’re no more than slaves,” says one farmer, summing up the goals of their profit-making venture. But things are predictably rough for our debt-ridden characters, as the images of buffalo dragging antiquated plows through the mud make clear. With its relentless focus on the minutiae of farming, Utopia threatens to sink under the weight of too many mundane details, but Raksasad manages to keep the film afloat on the real drama of his nation’s political and social issues, bringing an added measure of poignancy to the quiet desperation of his characters.