Starring: Jacques Dufilho, Yvette Etiévant, Michel Galabru
Director: Yves Robert
Running Time: 90 mins
War Of The Buttons (La guerre des boutons) is a French film about boys from two small villages who engage in an ever-escalating conflict with one another, seeking to capture buttons from the enemy as prizes of war.
Not only is War Of The Buttons a beautiful ode to the free spirits of childhood, but it’s a genuinely funny, well-told and original story. On the surface, it’s a real joy to sit back and think of the best parts of a carefree youth, but the movie offers up some really clever comedy throughout that plays on a whole number of themes.
The main thing that makes War Of The Buttons so lovable, however, is its immense childlike energy. That’s not to say the film is silly and not directed at adults, because I think that this could be a far more enjoyable watch for older viewers than kids.
While children will certainly enjoy the adventure and fun-loving conflict between the boys of Longeverne and Velrans, the film strikes up a wonderful balance of childhood nostalgia and clever parody and satire with its screenplay.
On the simpler side of things, War Of The Buttons is such a beautiful portrayal of the innocence and passion of childhood. Though it may seem inconsequential to an adult’s eyes, the importance of winning a war between kid gangs, getting the buttons as spoils of war and everything in between is not something to be underestimated.
Too many films that focus on the adventures of young characters tell these stories as easy, throwaway comedies. But that fails to recognise the fact that children really care about their adventures, with a passion and immense imagination that can never be matched in one’s later years.
As a result, War Of The Buttons is one of the most earnest films about childhood that you’ll ever see, and its recognition of just how much these kinds of adventures matter to children, and just how much passion goes into what seems trivial to adults, is an absolute treasure to see.
But beyond childhood nostalgia, War Of The Buttons also delights with a sharp, funny screenplay throughout. Crafting a cast of likable and energetic characters (all of whom are played brilliantly by the film’s young ensemble), the movie pokes fun at the seriousness of adult life, as well as taking a satirical look at themes of war and upstart societies.
With the preposterous escalation of the boys’ conflict from stick throwing to playful torture and even a few serious weapons, this is for all intents and purposes a war movie, albeit telling its story in a rather more light-hearted manner.
Focusing on the Longeverne group throughout, the movie takes a clever Lord Of The Flies-esque look at upstart societies, as the boys divide themselves between rich and poor, cavalry and infantry, men and women and more. It’s not done in such a way to make the kids seem precocious, but more as an impressive satirical allegory for all societies and all age groups.
And best of all, the film ends on a really lovely note that caps off a thoroughly joyful family adventure. A well-known classic in its native France, War Of The Buttons is the kind of film that people all over the world can watch and love just as well, with a wonderful sense of childhood nostalgia, great humour, excellent performances and clever writing all the way through. So, that’s why I’m giving the film a 7.7 overall.