We all have our special foods, the personal delicacies that soothe our stomachs and warm our hearts. But sometimes the best food is simply the food you make yourself. That plain fact is always at the forefront of Little Forest, a South Korean film that takes great pleasure in the simplest aspects of daily living.
Kim Tae-ri (The Handmaiden) plays Hye-won, a young woman who has come slinking back to her rural childhood home from the urban cityscape of Seoul. She has been studying to become a teacher, but she fails to pass her exam, and her college romance abruptly flames out. She’s looking for some pampering, but her mother has disappeared just as Hye-won arrives, leaving only an inscrutable note.
On her own now, Hye-won takes pleasure in making the recipes her mother taught her as a child. She even does a bit of farming on the modest plot of land their house resides on. Her time at home is meant to be short — only a few months — but she finds herself continually extending it. That her best friend and an unrequited crush both happen to live there as well doesn’t make her departure any more urgent.
Written by Hwang Seong-gu and directed by Yim Soon-rye, Little Forest delights in the pleasures of cooking and farming. Its food scenes could almost be considered food porn, if they weren’t anchored by Seong-gu’s sensitive narration. Soon-rye’s camera work is fairly pedestrian, but he coaxes some find performances out of the cast, and the film is bathed in a lustrous golden glow that only makes the dishes more appetizing.
Tae-ri, whose magnificent performance in Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden was the result of a national talent search, works in a minor key in Little Forest. It’s a simple film without too many grand emotions, but Tae-ri plays the reserved lead effectively and with great charm. It’s a role that could easily bore audiences to tears, but her charisma saves it.
Little Forest is a simple film without large ambitions, but it succeeds at everything it attempts. Chances are, it’ll make you want to cook something as soon as it’s finished.