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Originally published Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 3:02 PM

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'War of the Buttons': an unevenly stitched tale of feuding boys

A movie review of "War of the Buttons," a meandering version of a perennially popular French tale about feuding boys from rival villages.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2 stars

'War of the Buttons,' with Jean Texier, Ilona Bachelier, Guillaume Canet, Laetitia Casta, Kad Merad. Directed by Christophe Barratier, from a screenplay by Barratier, Stéphane Keller, Thomas Langmann and Philippe Lopes-Curval, based on a novel by Louis Pergaud. 100 minutes. Rated PG-13 for mild violence. In French, with English subtitles. Varsity.

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Christophe Barratier's handsome but rudderless "War of the Buttons" is among the latest in a long string of films, an opera, illustrated books and a comic book all based on a 1912 novel by Louis Pergaud about feuding boys from rival villages.

Yves Robert's 1962 anti-war version was a huge international hit. A 1994 film made by the producer and writer of the Oscar-winning "Chariots of Fire," David Puttnam and Colin Welland, was set in Ireland.

The new "War of the Buttons" opening in Seattle takes place during Germany's occupation of France during the 1940s. Despite a coming-of-age love story overlaying a "Lord of the Flies"-like scenario — all set against tensions between the French Resistance and Vichy collaborators over a Jewish girl in the village of Longeverne — this "Buttons" is poorly stitched.

The story's fundamental hook, a territorial war between the boys of Longeverne and the boys of nearby village Velrans, occupies a lot of screen time and is played both for laughs and would-be minitragedy.

It is the kind of raw idea that serves as a malleable fable and metaphor (thus all those previous adaptations), yet writer-director Barratier can't seem to do anything with it other than keep raising the violence and anger.

Meanwhile, as if in a parallel universe, a Jewish schoolgirl, Violette (Ilona Bachelier), has arrived in Longeverne under a false identity. In time, a local rebel (Jean Texier) and others conspire to save her from the Vichy. But that compelling drama and everything it does to heal frayed relationships and identify Resistance heroes comes extraordinarily late in the story, a terrible lost opportunity.

When all is said and done, one wonders if there was ever a point to "Buttons."

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@gmail.com

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