War of the Buttons

  • Review Date: October 23, 2012
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2012

Common Sense Media says

WWII drama is overly cute but has worthy lessons for tweens.
  • Review Date: October 23, 2012
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2012

Age(i)

2
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5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Positive messages

On the one hand, War of the Buttons promotes tolerance and teamwork, but on the other, it advocates for war. In the end, the boys learn that having a mutual enemy (in this case, the collaborators) is a point of commonality -- and they help each other despite many weeks of discord. Lebrac also discovers the joy of reading -- as long it has to do with battle strategies -- and Violette realizes that there's more to "country" folk than she previously thought. Lebrac also finds out that people he thought were cowards are actually working for the Resistance.

Positive role models

Simone hides a Jewish girl despite the penalty for doing so. An entire town comes together to give Simone and Violette a chance to escape. Lebrac learns about the value of reading and tells Violette it doesn't matter that she's Jewish, he likes her just the same. And Violette decides she doesn't care whether Lebrac is a country boy, she likes him just the same.

Violence

The "war" between the neighboring factions of boys gets pretty brutal -- kids fight each other with sticks and slingshots and definitely get in one another's faces, leaving bruises. A father is known for giving his son the belt. A clique of friends sets fire to their nemeses' clubhouse. A boy is hurt until he gives up his friends' location and is later beaten by his friends for betraying them. A Jewish family is dragged away menacingly; in another scene, a Frenchman goes off looking for a Jewish girl in hiding.

Sex

Young Lebrac and Violette have a sweet embrace and kiss on the cheeks before they're separated. Adult characters share a passionate kiss. Men in a bar make crude comments about Simone's reputation for being promiscuous. Lebrac and his friends joke about what it takes to get a girl to like them.

Language

Although the movie is spoken in French, there are several subtitled swear words, including "f--k," "s--t," and insults like "limp dick," "little brats," "big numbskulls," "picky asses," "bastards," "a--holes," and "coward."

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

All of the adults drink (wine or hard liquor), and most smoke cigarettes, both of which are accurate for the movie's time period/setting.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that War of the Buttons is an adaptation of a famous French novel about a group of neighboring cliques of boys who engage in a full-scale "war" against one another (success is measured by how many buttons they steal from their enemies). The action is set during World War II -- specifically, the French Occupation -- and includes some moments of cruelty and violence, like when a Jewish family is dragged away from their home by collaborator police officers and when a group of kids lights their nemeses' wooden clubhouse aflame. Kids also get into fistfights with each other and even take turns hitting a "traitor." On the other hand, the kids learn their lesson and work together to save a Jewish teen hidden among them. Young characters and adults both display affection (kissing); there's some subtitled swearing, including "f--k" and "s--t." Adults drink and smoke.

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What's the story?

During Germany's occupation of France in World War II, the boys of neighboring country towns engage in a play war with each other. The young leader of the pack, Lebrac (Jean Texier), starts reading books about famous wars in order to effectively defeat the other boys in a war that's measured by how many buttons and laces they steal from their enemies. Complicating the "war" is Violette (Ilona Bachelier), a beautiful young Jewish girl who's pretending to be the goddaughter of the village seamstress, Simone (Laetitia Casta). Violette and Lebrac strike up a sweet friendship that's threatened when a vindictive Vichy cop starts rounding up Jewish and other "suspicious" residents.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

WAR OF THE BUTTONS is the latest adaptation of Louis Pergaud's famous 1912 French novel -- this time set during World War II to add in themes of the Resistance, defiance, and tolerance. As Lebrac and his acolytes fight the neighboring clique, their lives are impacted by the appearance of the mysterious Violette in their one-room school. Texier is particularly good playing the charismatic leader who falls for the brainy and beautiful (and secretly Jewish) new girl. 

As for the adults in the story, there's a predictable romance between schoolteacher Paul (Patrick Dempsey lookalike Guillaume Canet) and the gorgeous Simone, who were together before she left for -- and returned from -- Paris. Paul is one of several characters in the movie who aren't what they seem. Lebrac might seem like a dim bulb, but he's a brilliant strategist; his father looks like a cowardly tyrant, but he's actually braver than Lebrac could ever imagine. Ultimately, the boys' war ends when they realize there's a bigger enemy than each other, and even young viewers will realize how disturbingly easy it is to become merciless under the banner of war. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about War of the Buttons' messages. How does it depict war/conflict? Are there other means of resolving issues?

  • How did the kids' war mirror the issues and themes of WWII? What does Violette mean when she says Lebrac is acting like a Nazi?

  • Some critics have said that War of the Buttons glosses over some of the grittier subject matter of the war, deportations, and a girl in hiding far from her family. Do you agree? Does that matter for this story?

  • What do Lebrac and Violette teach each other about tolerance and friendship?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 12, 2012
DVD release date:September 17, 2013
Cast:Guillaume Canet, Jean Texier, Laetitia Casta
Director:Christophe Barratier
Studio:Weinstein Co.
Genre:Drama
Topics:Friendship
Run time:100 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:language and some thematic elements

This review of War of the Buttons was written by

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
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