Thursday, October 11, 2012

Those "buttons" pop off again in Christophe Barratier's remake, WAR OF THE BUTTONS

At least the fifth rendition, movie-wise, of the famous French novel La Guerre des boutons -- written in 1912 by Louis Pergaud, a young writer who died three years later fighting for the French during World War I (his death is a study in the ironies of wartime) -- this latest endeavor is but one link in a chain of novel-into-movie-after-movie-after-movie. TrustMovies imagined that an earlier film had been made prior to Yves Robert's 1962 version, and sure enough, there was one: La Guerre des Gosses (The War of the Kids) in 1937. Then the Irish made their own remake in 1994, and last year the French rebounded with two Wars, both released nationwide in France, one just seven days after the other. Surprisingly enough, both did decent box-office business.

The first of these two was directed by Yann Samuell, who earlier gave us the odd, dark and sprightly Love Me if You DareI have the sinking feeling we shall never see M. Samuell's version here in the USA because the second of the two newest Buttons, and the film under consideration here, has been picked up for U.S. distribution by The Weinstein Company and opens tomorrow in New York City and Los Angeles. Its director/adapter Christophe Barratier (shown at right), who earlier gave us smart, appealing crowd-pleasers like The Chorus and Paris 36, has accomplished pretty much the same thing with his latest film.

As director and co-adapter (with Thomas Langmann and two other writers), M. Barratier has set his War in the midst of another war -- World War II -- and this has both its benefits and one major draw-back. Three of the remakes -- Samuell's, Robert's and the Irish ver-sion all set their film in the 1960s, which was also Robert's current time frame, while the 1937 version, unseen by me, probably takes place in some time period between the novel's original and the year the film was made. Setting this story -- of gangs of kids from nearby and competing villages who engage in a "war" in which buttons are removed from the opposing gang's clothing as "victory trophies" -- in our current times, these kids' "war" would probably result in the kind of mayhem and misanthropy found in Battle Royale or The Hunger Games.

On the plus side, Barratier's movie is well-cast and acted (the wonderful faces of the kids register individually and strongly: that's the adorable Clément Godefroy, shown center), beautifully filmed in the French countryside, and the element of the Nazi overseers, even though we barely see them (the French needed little push to do the German's bidding) adds some suspense and gravity to the situation of the children's own little "war." The down side of all this comes from Barratier's pandering to his home audience by making nearly everyone in the small town either a Resistance fighter or someone remarkably quick to rise in defense of Jews. As feel-good as all this proves, you'll want a taste of Sarah's Key or the upcoming La Rafle in order to get your bearings on reality again.

In the leading roles, kid-wise, are one newcomer Jean Texier (above, right) as the "good" gang's leader, Lebrac, who proves a natural, versatile actor whom I am sure we'll be seeing soon again, and the more seasoned pro, Ilona Bachelier (above, left), as the new-girl-in-town he gets to know.

Adult roles are taken by the likes of Guillaume Canet (above, left, and for the first time looking fully an adult) as the town's teacher, Laetitia Casta (above, right, as his stand-offish enamorata) and Kad Merad (below) as Lebrac's dad.

They're all just fine, and if this latest War of the Buttons reeks of guilty pleasure, so be it. Hell, Americans can probably enjoy it even without the guilt, since we don't need to believe that every second Frenchmen joined the resistance. The movie opens tomorrow, Friday, October 12, in New York City (at the Angelika Film Center), in Los Angeles at Landmark's Regent Theater, in San Francisco at the Bridge Theater and in Berkley, CA, at the Shattuck Cinemas. A nationwide limited release will follow.

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