Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
First Official Image: Andrew Garfield In Martin Scorsese's 'Silence' First Official Image: Andrew Garfield In Martin Scorsese's 'Silence' Joss Whedon Shot An Alternate ‘Avengers: Age Of Ultron’ Ending Where [Redacted] Doesn’t Die & Much More Joss Whedon Shot An Alternate ‘Avengers: Age Of Ultron’ Ending Where [Redacted] Doesn’t Die & Much More First Look: Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, And More In 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' First Look: Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, And More In 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' First Look: Harley Quinn & The Entire 'Suicide Squad' Cast In Full Costume First Look: Harley Quinn & The Entire 'Suicide Squad' Cast In Full Costume Director Josh Trank Reportedly Fired From His ‘Star Wars’ Film For “Erratic" Behavior On The ‘Fantastic Four’ Set Director Josh Trank Reportedly Fired From His ‘Star Wars’ Film For “Erratic" Behavior On The ‘Fantastic Four’ Set Robert Downey Jr. Trashes Indie Moviemaking, Fires Back Over Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Superhero Diss Robert Downey Jr. Trashes Indie Moviemaking, Fires Back Over Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Superhero Diss 8 Westerns Not Set In The Old West 8 Westerns Not Set In The Old West First Look: Clear Photos Of Ben Affleck In Costume From 'Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice' First Look: Clear Photos Of Ben Affleck In Costume From 'Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice' Kristen Stewart Says "Hollywood Is Disgustingly Sexist," Questions When Actresses Decide To Go Nude Kristen Stewart Says "Hollywood Is Disgustingly Sexist," Questions When Actresses Decide To Go Nude Warner Bros' DC Comics' Franchise Is Reportedly A Big Movie Universe Without A Clear Leader Warner Bros' DC Comics' Franchise Is Reportedly A Big Movie Universe Without A Clear Leader Data On Netflix Original Programming Reveals Everyone Is Watching 'Daredevil,' Not Tuning Into 'Bloodline' Data On Netflix Original Programming Reveals Everyone Is Watching 'Daredevil,' Not Tuning Into 'Bloodline' Rumor: Asa Butterfield Is The Frontrunner To Play Marvel's Spider-Man Rumor: Asa Butterfield Is The Frontrunner To Play Marvel's Spider-Man Ranked: All The Characters Of The Marvel Cinematic Universe Ranked: All The Characters Of The Marvel Cinematic Universe Marion Cotillard, Léa Seydoux, Vincent Cassel & More To Star In Xavier Dolan's Next Film 'Only The End Of The World' Marion Cotillard, Léa Seydoux, Vincent Cassel & More To Star In Xavier Dolan's Next Film 'Only The End Of The World' Cannes: New Images From 'Macbeth' Starring Michael Fassbender And Marion Cotillard Cannes: New Images From 'Macbeth' Starring Michael Fassbender And Marion Cotillard New NSFW, Extremely Graphic, Adults-Only Poster For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' New NSFW, Extremely Graphic, Adults-Only Poster For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season Best To Worst: Every Marvel Movie Ranked Best To Worst: Every Marvel Movie Ranked

Review: 'War Of The Buttons' Feels Like An Early '90s Miramax Reject

The Playlist By Gabe Toro | The Playlist September 21, 2012 at 9:59AM

It’s World War II, and France faces a hostile Nazi occupation. You wouldn’t know it from the children, however, as “War of the Buttons” uses the war as a macro-micro contrast with the tale of a group of youths protecting their territory from a group of would-be mini-hooligans. The troops may be coping with casualties on all sides, and regular French citizens deal with day-to-day bullying by Gestapo strongmen attempting to suss out Jewish citizens in hiding, but none seem aware of the War of the Buttons.
1
War of The Buttons, Laetia Casta, Guillaume Canet

It’s World War II, and France faces a hostile Nazi occupation. You wouldn’t know it from the children, however, as “War of the Buttons” uses the war as a macro-micro contrast with the tale of a group of youths protecting their territory from a group of would-be mini-hooligans. The troops may be coping with casualties on all sides, and regular French citizens deal with day-to-day bullying by Gestapo strongmen attempting to suss out Jewish citizens in hiding, but none seem aware of the War of the Buttons. It's a turf war where kids come at each other with sticks and fists, antagonizing each other as they attempt to seize each others’ land before retreating to secret hideaways and, more often, their home lives with overworked lower class parents. See, it’s metaphor! The Weinstein Company acquired this French hit to be released stateside, and with its mixture of kids, World War II and Nazis, it seemed like a sure bet for some Oscar attention. But because theirs is a slate that includes “The Master, “Django Unchained,“ “Silver Linings Playbook” and “The Intouchables,” the brothers Weinstein discovered what audiences will discover this weekend: the film is achingly and predictably inessential.

War of The Buttons

There’s something very old school Hollywood about this tale, where children throw toothless epithets at each other and barely harm their neighbors with more than a light scar or a bruised eye. The conflict escalates when squad leader Lebrac (Jean Texier) takes a few lessons about urban warfare from the town’s plucky top educator (Guillaume Canet) via history, and decides to make his victories count. Now, when rival kids enter their territory, they are captured, and their buttons are plucked from their clothing, taken away as tribute.

War of The Buttons

But the hormonal Lebrac, who resembles the faint manliness of Christian Bale in “Newsies,” is a victim to Cupid’s bow, falling for the local new girl Violette (Ilona Bachelier). With an angry, condescending working class father at home and an ineffectual mother, Lebrac finds a home away from home as the leader of his friendly child mob. But he starts to have reservations as soon as he realizes that Violette, like most kid-flick dream girls, has a more enlightened view of violence. To ratchet up the dramatic irony, Violette and her mother Simone (Laetitia Casta) are also Jewish, hiding their ethnicity and moving from town to town to escape the watchful eye of Nazi soldiers.

Not that they wouldn’t have much luck in this aspect. The Nazis in “War of the Buttons” are as threatening as the child gangs. Characters constantly sneak away from them, hiding behind walls and corners, escaping their gaze as they goose-step obliviously around the Jewish locals right under their noses. Though they carry guns, they might as well be armed like the creampie-toting villains of “Bugsy Malone” – in one scene, they are outfoxed so handily by a boilerplate cockamamie scheme that their sniveling leader throws a vintage Warner Bros. style hissy fit, complete with helmet tossed into the ground. Presumably, restraint was maintained to avoid animating literal cartoon clouds of frustration emanating from his ears.

War of The Buttons

“War of the Buttons” is consciously light, much like the unthreatening foreign productions that provided the award-winning foundations for Miramax in the early '90s. Though it’s hard to say stuff like “Cinema Paradiso” or “Il Postino” were so craven as 'Buttons,' which even features a malnourished kewpie sidekick in the gang, who stutters as he repeats and often mangles the threats and strategies of his elders in the group. It’s further evidence that “War of the Buttons” attempts to gloss over the tragedies of the real-life horror of that day (whitewashed through an idyllic romance between the handsome and boring Canet and Casta) in order to rib-nudge through a flimsy allegory too dim for the blue-hairs who frequent this bloodless stuff, and too dull and paint-by-numbers for those seeking a beginners' course in foreign period films. [D]

This article is related to: Review, Guillaume Canet, Laetitia Casta, War of the Buttons


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates