Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
United Kingdom/France/Japan/USA, 1994. Enigma Productions, Fujisankei Communication Group, Hugo Films, Les Productions de la Gueville, Warner Bros.. Screenplay by Colin Welland, based on the film La Guerre Des Boutons by Yves Robert and the novel by Louis Pergaud. Cinematography by Bruno de Keyzer. Produced by David Puttnam. Music by Rachel Portman. Production Design by Jim Clay. Costume Design by Louise Frogley. Film Editing by David Freeman. Toronto International Film Festival 1995.
This endlessly charming film captures the spirit of the children it portrays and gets great comedy out of the tricks they play on each other. Two groups of boys from the the Irish villages of Ballydowse and Carrickdowse are in perpetual war with each other, their mission to capture the enemy but their deadline to get it all done before dark. The ultimate cruelty they play on their captors is to cut off their buttons, thereby getting them in trouble with their parents, which means coming up with increasingly clever ways to lay in ambush for their enemies or evade their tactics (like one scene where they attack while completely naked). At the heart of these groups is Fergus, the head of the Ballys, whose home life is difficult and provokes his wanting to take his mostly working-class group ahead of the middle-class Carricks, not noticing that his plight earns the sympathy of the one of the boys from the opposing team. Adapted from a French book previously filmed in 1936 and 1962 (and more recently again in 2011), it makes the mistake of including an exciting action scene that feels like audience pandering, complete with helicopter rescue, in its third act, but it’s a warm and touching comedy whose entire cast will win your heart with their sincerity.