La Guerre des Boutons (War of the Buttons)

Yves Robert’s La Guerre des Boutons was a huge success when it came out in 1962, yet this classic French kids’ film is pretty much unknown today- if anything, you may have heard of (or seen) the 90’s British remake, unaware this gem even existed.

That’s too bad, because, like the best films meant for all-ages, it doesn’t pander or pull any punches. Hell, it’s full of punches in its depiction of two warring gangs of kids who escalate their rivalry with harsher and harsher battles that culminate in- you guessed it- a war of buttons (a kid version of scalping the enemy.)

The film works on two levels- one, it’s just beautifully shot and crafted cinema. Inspired by / part of the freewheeling spirit of the French New Wave, it spends most of its time outdoors with a group of non-professional kid actors who nail their parts beautifully. Just taken as pure cinema, La Guerre des Boutons is right up there with Goddard and Truffaut in its brash energy and the way it remains true to itself.

But the anti-war subtext, and the critical commentary it spews on the moral failures of adults (and how they are reflected in children) is impossible to miss. Most parents here are pretty worthless, shallow people just going through life without any introspection, perpetuating the same stupidity humankind has been following for ages. The kids, on one hand, are animals- brutal, ruthless, sometimes saying or doing things that you would never expect to hear or see in a kids’ movie. But these kids are also noble, intelligent, and, ultimately, compassionate in ways that the adults have clearly lost.

Like The 400 Blows, the film just lets its characters be, indicting society by showing more than telling. But it’s also just funny, and fun, clever and engaging- a perfect choice for parents looking for a non-pandering movie that treats its young audience with intelligence.

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