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"War of the Buttons": French History, Revised and Romanticized 

Wednesday, Oct 10 2012
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After The Chorus and Paris 36, Christophe Barratier — one of France's least interesting living directors — offers up another gooey slice of Gallic nostalgia: The War of the Buttons, a reboot of Yves Roberts' 1962 original. Barratier and screenwriter Thomas Langmann have set the story of warring pre-teen 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 The 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 since France's present has so many stories yet to be told onscreen. (JF)

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Jon Frosch

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