When You Need A Breath Of Country Air: Reasons To Watch “Little Forest”

Following an enigmatic female lead, “Little Forest” is a quiet, contemplative movie featuring excellent performances and beautiful cinematography. Hye Won (played by the lovely Kim Tae Ri) moves back home to the country after failing a teaching exam and questioning her motivations to stay in Seoul. Hye Won is in her element digging in the dirt — “I’m a product of the land and air here” — or kneading dough, and it’s her return to her roots that makes “Little Forest” a wonderful movie about self-identity, building from the ground up and coming home.

Not a lot happens in “Little Forest”; it’s not action packed, and if you’re looking for three-act structure — beginning, middle and end — or maybe a bit of a plot… it’s not here, but what we do get is so much better. The movie is broken up into four separate parts that display the highs and lows of living in the country during every season. Storms ruin the crops, sometimes the tomato harvest isn’t great. There’s no real drama. Instead, we’re invited into Hye Won’s monologue, unceremonious and like a diary in style.

Kim Tae Ri’s delivery is captivating. Her character doesn’t traverse a great deal of different emotions, but her performance is subtle, quiet, and intimate; besides a few ensemble scenes, this movie is essentially a one-man show, and Kim Tae Ri delivers, drawing the viewer in and keeping our attention throughout. Her character is likable in a very easygoing, girl-next-door sort of way. She’s someone you could sit in comfortable silence with, and in many scenes, we do.

When the few colorful characters aren’t offering philosophies of the simple life, Hye Won is offering up farming life hacks; what “Moby Dick” is for whaling, “Little Forest” is for humble farming. Interested in growing your own tomatoes, onions, or potatoes? Forget asking Google, watch “Little Forest”; it’s much more aesthetically pleasing. We’re also able to gain some insight into Hye Won’s character through her vast knowledge of country life and seeing it juxtaposed with her former city life, shown in flashbacks. In the city, she was forced to eat convenience store food and was under-appreciated by her boyfriend when she put in extra effort to make him lunch. Back in the present, she is clearly in her element taste-testing tomatoes like they’re fine wine.

Speaking of aesthetics:

Every shot is beautifully framed and executed, and the colors are warm even in the winter, reflecting an overarching theme of home that is seen throughout. “Little Forest” invites you into the country, displaying stunning scenery, likable characters, and appetizing food.

If you live alone you might eat for convenience, just quickly making something and not caring about presentation or originality, but food in this film is shown as a pleasure both in the eating, making, and sharing. A well-made pudding is used to build bridges, an apple grown with love and attention is given as a gift to a possible crush. Sweet chestnuts; shaved tree bark; edible flowers; sweet, dried persimmons for the winter. Here we see the benefit of slow food, carefully prepared and appreciated.

Hye Won’s relationship with food is representative of her relationship with her mother. We see flashbacks to her childhood, when she is watching her mom cook and learning life lessons through food, which is a continuing theme in the movie and gives us subtle, almost mysterious insight into the young woman who is as much a product of her mother as she is the earth. Every moment between the two is shown in the context of preparing a meal; even when they’re outside, they’re are happily tucking into something yummy.

Their relationship is as tempestuous as the seasons, and Hye Won seems to begrudge her mother’s actions whilst admiring her, resembling her and following in her footsteps. In one particular flashback, Hye Won begs her mom not to ruin a meal by shaving tree bark on top of it, then, cut to the present, she does the same. It’s a really touching element to the story and one not often enough explored in cinema today, focusing more on romantic relationships than familial ones.

There is a little romance in “Little Forest,” or at least elements of the genre, but it’s the female relationships that drive the story. Hye Won’s mother, aunt, and childhood best friend influence her, aggravate her, and are shown to be a part of her; these relationships are explored subtly and with measure throughout the movie. In the beginning, Hye Won is avoiding human connection, and she wants to return home without taking on all that that would mean: reuniting with friends and addressing the scars of the past. It’s through her eventual understanding of her past and her friendships that she becomes fully in touch and present, able to make the decision to stay where she belongs.

If you’re looking to get away from the chaos of the city, “Little Forest” can be your escape. It’s one for your favorites list and definitely worth a repeat viewing, especially if you’re in need of some cooking tips! Check out “Little Forest” on Viki now!

Watch the full film below:

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MizWest is an English Teaching Assistant with way too much time on her hands. When she’s not watching dramas or shaking it to K-pop, she’s studying everything Korean culture with a view to move out there some day soon!

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