THE WAR OF THE BUTTONS | Review of Yves Robert’s film

Between the children of two neighboring villages, the Longevernes led by Lebrac and the Velrans, led by Aztec, it’s war. But the day the Velrans apostrophes Grangibus and Tigibus with an insult hitherto unknown to the Longevernes, who are nevertheless experts in flowery curses, the war takes on a new turn. The last great battle results in the capture of a prisoner who must be punished in an exemplary manner. Lebrac is particularly devious: woe to the vanquished, a Velran, from whom all his buttons are torn off. In these difficult times, clothes are precious and humiliation is utter. The war is not about to end …

Pitched battles

Directed by Yves Robert in 1961, almost fifty years after the publication of Louis Pergaud’s novel, The War of the Buttons constitutes the second adaptation of this work and, according to the general opinion, the most successful. Even if Yves Robert’s initial project did not meet the approval of the producers contacted. The director will then decide to set up his own production house, with his wife Danielle Delorme: it will be La Guéville with whom he will direct this feature film, but also Bébert and the omnibus, already reviewed here, Friends or Alexander the blessed until his greatest successes like An elephant cheats a lot and We will all go to heaven and even more.

The film conceals memorable scenes, like those of pitched battles, of course, but also that of the improvised truce to rescue an injured rabbit, the destruction of the cabin or Little Gibus who is offered a little alcohol. to comfort him. The little chastened language of the kids, who don’t necessarily know what they are saying, moreover, is often a laughing matter.

If the children all offer irresistible natural and funny performances – André Treton, Martin and François Lartigue, Daniel Janneau but also Christophe Bourseiller in his first role – adults are not left out. Whether it is Jacques Dufilho, Jean Richard or Michel Galabru as fathers of families overwhelmed by the escapades of their offspring or Pierre Trabaud, impeccable and moving as a municipal teacher, severe but benevolent, deeply human. A character who clashes with the violence of parents, at a time when corporal punishment was not uncommon. Violence that the children then reproduce among themselves, with a certain cruelty.

The cinematographer André Bac, who had worked a lot with Claude Autant-Lara, signed, with this film, a magnificent black and white photograph which highlights the beauty of the landscapes. Because nature is important in the world of Louis Pergaud – who also wrote animal texts – and animals very present: fox, rabbit, recalcitrant donkey and a horse that is used to attack the enemy. This formal success is completed by a very beautiful music by José Berghmans, which sometimes takes on disturbing accents and a very beautiful realization by Yves Robert, with in particular very beautiful movements of cameras in the woods.

Funny, rhythmic and tender, the film does not forget to tackle certain more serious subjects, such as mistreatment, but always with a certain modesty. The spirit which dominates, which carries the film remains positive, optimistic in spite of everything. It emanates from The War of the Buttons an appetite for life and fun. Superbly restored by Gaumont and distributed by Malavida, The War of the Buttons, who had obtained the Jean Vigo Prize in 1961, can be seen in theaters again since June 23.

Back to the cinema since June 23, 2021


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