The fourth screen adaptation of Louis Pergaud's 1912 novel (and one of two dueling versions to hit French theaters within a week of each other), this "War of the Buttons" melds the book's anti-militarist story of feuding rural schoolboys to a boilerplate take on the French Resistance.
As with his films "The Chorus" and "Paris 36," director Christophe Barratier anchors the action to a reassuring middle ground, bathing it in the golden light of nostalgia.
The setting is the Haute-Loire, where an incident of trespassing sparks an epic battle between boys from neighboring villages. Amid bluster about torture and psychological warfare — obvious regurgitations of adult rhetoric — each tribe aims to strip the other of the buttons from their clothes.
Though it's handled with little subtlety, the way the atmosphere of suspicion in Vichy France filters down to the kids is a smart slant on the material. Lebrac (Jean Texier), who steps out of the dunce's corner to lead one of the armies, is in part compensating for the collaborationist cowardice he perceives in his father, a hard-drinking farmer (Kad Merad).