This French-language film (with English subtitles) is a touching story of family, friendship, and humanity. Set in France during World War II, War of the Buttons is the story of war, resistance, and coming of age in a turbulent time.
There are several stories woven together in this film. First is the story of Violette (Ilona Bachelier), a Jewish pre-teenager hiding from the Nazis. She is living with a family friend. A city girl, Violette (her alias in the town), is adapting to life in the small village while at the same time keeping her secret from her new friends.
Another story involves a young rebel named Lebrac (Jean Texier), who is the leader of the boys in town. The town’s boys are “at war” with the boys from the neighboring town. They have declared their war “The War of the Buttons” because they take the buttons from their “enemies” when they capture them.
A third story weaving its way through this movie is that of the French Resistance and their work against the Nazis.
Lebrac and Violette forge a friendship and in times of war, the World War kind and not the War of the Buttons kind, Lebrac joins forces with his rivals to keep Violette safe from their real enemy — the Nazis.
“The film is truly a free adaptation of the novel, in the sense that I let my inspiration guide me towards areas that were foreign to the novel,” said director Christophe Barratier. “The film transcribes first and foremost the feeling of freedom present in Pergaud’s novel. The children are not only at war against each other, they are involved in trying to form their own republic. They make up their own rules, not only for fighting but also for living.”
Lebrac discovers some unknowns about his father while also discovering some awful truths about life and war. The war takes a toll on everyone, and these youngsters see horrors they have never seen before. While many viewers might see this as a coming-of-age story about youngsters, others will see it as a story of compassion and humanity.
The DVD contains some bloopers and a “making of” featurette. The movie is subtitled, and as someone who is not all that fond of subtitled films, I can attest to the fact that it kept my interest the entire time. It’s a sensitive story and it’s always worth reminding ourselves of the horrors of war and the evils of mankind.
War of the Buttons is rated “PG-13” for language and some thematic elements.