LFF 2018: Little Forest Review
There is nothing new about the city dweller who decides to go back to their home town and, in doing so, rediscovers what it is they really want in life and maybe find romance along the way in the form of a childhood friend. It’s an appealing and easy fantasy of finding all the answers and letting go of life’s complicated troubles. But any familiar plot can still be worth watching if done well, and that is absolutely the case in Yim Soon-rye’s Little Forest, based on the Japanese manga by Daisuke Igarashi.
Hye-won (Kim Tae-ri) leaves Seoul suddenly for the small country farming town where she grew up. Intending to stay only a few days until the figures out what to do next she instead stays for a year, reconnecting with old friends Eun-sook (Jin Ki-joo) and Jae-ha (Ryu Jun-yeol), cooking all the recipes she remembers from her absent mother (Moon So-ri), and wonders where it is she wants to be.
Little Forest is nice, there’s really no other way to put it. There’s beautiful nature, an uncomplicated plot, lots of sequences of carefully prepared home cooked food, and a dog who at one point wears a little scarf. It’s like the dough soup we see Hye-won prepare at one point, warm and filling. If this sort of thing isn’t your cup of tea then nothing is going to convert you, but for others it has everything for a pleasant and undemanding time. Hye-won is a likeable focus character and played very well by Kim Tae-ri, who recently gave a stellar performance in Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden. Watching her navigate the ins and out of the changing seasons is relaxing and charming, not to mention delightfully funny.
Whilst the conflicts and potential problems in the film are resolved simply, it does address the fact that running away from her problems in Seoul isn’t the answer for Hye-won, and she will actually have to confront them at some point. She also isn’t alone in her desire to work things out life as we see with her friends Eun-sook and Jae-ha. Eun-sook wants big city excitement but has never left town, and Jae-ha has experienced big city life and finds that country life and farming suits him better. It’s almost a representation of Hye-won’s choices; to stay in the country but constantly tell herself that she should be getting back to the city or plant some long-term roots and grow in the countryside.
The film reminded me of Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday. Both are gentle and easy watches which feature a young woman going into the countryside and working the land as she simultaneously looks forward and figures out what she wants in life and while looking back on her past.
Its place at LFF was in the Love Strand, and whilst there is a bud of a romance between Hye-won and Jae-ha the real love story here is self-love and comfort as Hye-won establishes a life for herself and as she cooks these meals. There is also the familial love in the complex relationship between Hye-won and her mother who suddenly left to pursue her own sense of life when Hye-won was finishing high school and whose presence is firmly part of both the house and Hye-won’s cooking. Hye-won’s coming to understand her mother and what she did in leaving is a wonderful part of the story and definitely gives the film a little something that sets it apart from others with this type of premise.
It’s hard to find a film this year that’s more wholesome than Little Forest. It’s simple, but that’s part of what makes it so nicely formed. So, sit back and enjoy, but maybe not on an empty stomach.
Little Forest will also be shown in November as part of the London Korean Film Festival.