LITTLE FOREST (2018)
A life affirming pocket of celluloid sunshine, a young woman leaves the city, returns to her hometown and reconnects with what truly matters
Is it really possible that a film which largely consists of Kim Tae-ri cooking be considered a five-star worthy modern masterpiece? Yes.
Not least because these passages are so wonderfully presented – cooking scenes which make your stomach grumble. Cinematic culinary lessons, offering up technical beauty and traditional Korean food.
More than that, Little Forest is a masterpiece because it is about more than the vast cooking skills of the central character. It is about failure, nature, finding our happy place, the power of maternal guidance and how we can be reborn, or reset, even as the pressures of life seem to be bettering us.
Combining those elements means Yim Soon-rye has crafted one of the most lucidity watchable film of its era. A crackling fire of a film, a warm mug of drink in your lap. A film you can instantly finish and start all over again.
Hye-won (Kim Tae-ri – The Handmaiden) has failed the national qualification exam to become a teacher in Seoul and decides to return back to her family home in a traditional Korean village where everyone knows everyone.
Her dreams dashed, she leaves her boyfriend behind and starts to heal herself by cooking and catching up with old friends Eun-sook (Jin Ki-joo) and Jae-ha (Ryu Jun-yeol – The King, A Taxi Driver).
The missing element from the home is Hye-won’s mother (Moon So-ri – Oasis, A Good Lawyer's Wife), who is spending time away from the house for reasons that Hye-won cannot comprehend at first.
The current day scenes involve Hye-won cooking, farming and sharing food with friends as the seasons pass through and her city exile continues. We are also shown a series of flashbacks to Hye-won as a child, being raised by a loving single mother who seeks to impart her considerable cooking talents on her daughter while teaching her wider life lessons.
The little forest of the title refers to this space that her mother has successfully cultivated for her daughter, but it is also about the space all of us must find to clear our minds. The location for us to reconnect with ourselves, regardless of what the juggernaut of life puts us through. Our own, subjective antidote to the sometimes poisonous streaks of existence.
There is much said here about nature and our connection with it, chiefly demonstrated through close attention to growing our own food, cooking it with care and eating it with the people we love. Amongst the beauty of nature, we also see its cruelty, as storms batter humans and their food supplies.
The ultimate stress reliever, a film to send your blood pressure through the floor, there is so much beauty in the simple pleasures of food, engaging with nature and playing with a puppy in courtyard. Yim Soon-rye has made a film about the human form which demonstrates that the complexity of our lives can be eased with the simplest of escapes.