After The Chorus and Paris 36, Christophe Barratier—one of France’s least interesting living directors—offers up another gooey slice of Gallic nostalgia: War of the Buttons, a reboot of Yves Robert’s 1962 original. (In a bizarre industry twist, a second War of the Buttons remake was released in France just one week before Barratier’s.) Barratier and screenwriter Thomas Langmann have set the story of warring preteen-boy gangs against the sinister backdrop of 1944 Vichy France; the village in which the action unfolds is under threat of Nazi occupation, and a Jewish girl (Ilona Bachelier) is in hiding, protected by a kindhearted local beauty and a dashing schoolteacher (played in noble eye candy mode by Laetitia Casta and Guillaume Canet). But despite its darker themes, Barratier coats War of the Buttons in his typical gloss, draining it of any sense of danger, authentic emotion, or spontaneous humor with his blandly composed images, cookie-cutter period detail (berets and baguettes galore), and pandering score. Of course, everyone in the film—aside from one or two conspicuous villains—turns out to be a resistant, making an otherwise harmlessly corny movie something slightly more bothersome: a revisionist fantasy of French heroism. As one non-critic friend wondered aloud upon seeing the film: “When will the French stop jerking off to their own history?” It’s a good question, especially because France’s present, rich in diversity and roiling with tensions, has so many stories yet to be told on-screen.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 10, 2012