A breath of fresh airYim Soon-rye’s ‘Little Forest’ gently explores the importance of embracing nature, connecting with one’s roots and finding solace in the simple joys in life.
‘Little Forest’ feels like a breath of fresh air. In it, you will see the passing of seasons and the foods that sprout with it. You will also see cold water running in the streams, the big red tomatoes, the rain that damages the crops and the sunshine that makes it all better.
Hye-won (Kim Tae-ri), like most city folks, is tired of her urban life. She returns to her home in the countryside to escape her dull life. There, she keeps herself busy by trying to make food from her mother’s (Moon So-ri) recipes. Even though her mother is not there when she returns, she loved sharing her recipes with her daughter when she was little. Her experimental food recipes made her daughter curious about the life she had lived.
As Hye-won starts embracing country life, we see picturesque scenes of wine-making at home, inviting friends over for a glass and cooking with what sprouts on the field. This is a beautiful (albeit romanticised) portrayal of the simple, rural life. No phones, no computers, no WiFi, just good food and a few friends to share it with.
We all have problems, but at least Hye-won has a place where she could get away from it all. Her mother had taught her how to survive winter and prepare food for the season beforehand. During her rebellious teenage years, she talked about leaving the city for good and her mother foresaw her eventual return to her roots. “I wanted to make your roots stronger,” she had said and her teachings proved to be fruitful when her daughter did come back.
For those of us seeking a break from the routine city life and dreaming of moving to the countryside, eating straight from the tree, planting enough food on our land, and roaming about in the wild, all of this seems like an idyllic dream. However, the movie doesn’t necessarily advocate doing all of this for the entirety of our lives. Its message is about incorporating all these elements into our busy lives.
Hye-won does not leave the city for good as she had initially intended, nor does she settle permanently in the village. Instead, she opts for a balanced approach without complicating things much. She chooses to have a little bit of everything—a stable source of income and a root that brings her back to nature.
This movie is not your “leave everything and go to the forest” guide, but rather a message to build your own little forest. As Hye-won says, “For my mother, her little forest was me, and the recipes.” Similarly, her goal is to find her own little forest. A little forest isn’t just a happy place; it is a reason to keep going and push a bit harder in life.
The movie does not tell you what you’re lacking, but it tells you what you need to incorporate into your daily life. This might be a little bit of sunshine, a soup made of freshly plucked tomatoes, or a homemade wine that makes you a little crazy with your friends. It’s about keeping it simple, not dwelling too much on the problems and keeping things real.
It doesn’t take much to say a lot, and it doesn’t take much to live a good life. ‘Little Forest’ does not have a strong sequence of scenes, or captivating dialogues, yet it feels like a hot soup in winter, which gradually makes you warm. In the simplicity through which the 1 hour 43 minutes film is built, you will find a sense of peace and a will to connect more with your roots and embrace nature.
Much like the seasons that pass when Hye-won is in her countryside retreat, her life also sees similar cycles. When she arrives in winter, she is weary and tired. “I will stay till winter,” she says, but when spring comes along, a gentle breeze invigorates her, and makes her stay longer. Only then do we see her shedding the weariness, preparing in advance for what to grow, and what to pluck out. This keeps her busy and helps her forget the exhausting city life.
When her friend reminds her that keeping busy won’t solve her problems, she takes a hard look at reality and decides to confront her challenges by returning to the city. By weathering the winter, sweat-drenching summer, and ceiling-leaking monsoon in her countryside home, she gathers enough strength to go back to Seoul and face the trials of modern society.
She had returned to the countryside, after failing an exam, and not finding joy in the estranged city. She ran from her unfulfilled life, dodging problems and making excuses not to face them. The film not only encourages us to go back to our roots and connect with our homeland more often but also tells us to bravely confront the issues of city life.
Through scenes of the preparation of homegrown meals, casual daily conversations with friends about life and relationships, a mother’s selfless nurturing and the passage of seasons, ‘Little Forest’ imparts valuable lessons about life and how little it takes to improve it. Happiness in our own little forest requires very little.
Director: Yim Soon-rye
Cast: Kim Tae-ri, Ryu Jun-yeol, Moon So-ri
Duration: 1 hour 43 minutes
Available on: Netflix