War of the Buttons
What parents need to know
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.
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?
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?