Irish cinema seems to fall into variations on just a few themes: dark, depressing depictions of years of the hard life of poverty or war and daunting efforts to overcome them ("Cal," "The Crying Game," "Michael Collins"); or, proudly, a light-hearted proof that centuries of deprivation definitely can be overcome ("The Dead," "The Commitments," "My Left Foot").
But every so often there is an Irish movie that mixes social significance with an upbeat Gaelic heart - a mix of broadly funny quirks of Irish life that make us learn while we laugh ("Waking Ned Devine," "The Quiet Man").
And as well, there is "War of the Buttons," about a non-lethal battle between the youths of two villages in the southern part of the Auld Sod, and how they learn from it -that a minor skirmish can escalate into revengeful clashes with potentially disastrous results for everyone involved - but particularly among the kids - until they get to know better.
"War of the Buttons" is a tremendously entertaining film. Along with scenes of the gorgeous green and craggy beauty of the landscape, it makes its points about living in the private - not always innocent - world of childhood energy and ingenuity; class distinctions; examples set by parents; the preciousness of life; learning from one's mistakes, and more - all wrapped up in one slyly observant film.
One village, Bally, houses relatively poor but proudly upright families in which even the loss of a button invites possible hardship. While in the neighboring town of Carrick live more prosperous people who tend to look down on the Bally families. They live on opposite sides of a river, connected by a bridge that has a line drawn across the center to mark the territorial border for the kids of either faction, and no boy from either side dares cross it.
It's all kid-talk and minor threats across the line until Bally boys capture a bully from Carrick and cut off all his buttons. War is declared. The boys attack one another with yells, sling shots and sticks, and buttons become the trophies going to the victors. OK, so far, but then what happens when the Bally boys cunningly attack in no clothes at all?
The escalating results lead to more serious consequences: the war becomes nasty, parents become involved, and after a harrowing, almost fatal, incident, there comes a surprising development. Finally, lessons are learned by everyone involved - with a wink of a pretty Irish eye.
The movie is from a 1961 French novel, made originally into two French films. It took an enterprising pair of filmmakers, John Roberts and Margy Kinmonth, in the mid-'60s, to recognize the fun in transferring it to a new setting and in doing so, creating a very Irish movie that has drawn raves from critics.
Said one, "It's impossible not to like this film - a truly delightful movie for everyone over the age of 10." And another, "I wanted the magic to continue, if for only a little while longer; the nostalgia of childhood and first realizations about life are incredible and universal, and so very Irish in the sweet sixties in the telling."
"War of the Buttons" can be seen as the next Club Indigo on Friday, March 9, at the Calumet Theatre. The movie will be shown at 7:15 p.m., preceded at 6 p.m. by an all-Irish buffet with corned beef and cabbage from Cormac's Irish Times Restaurant in Laurium (a traditional substitute will also be included for those observing Lenten fast).
Buffet and film are available for $18. The film alone is $5. Children receive a special discount for this PG-rated movie.
It is sponsored by the Irish Times in Laurium in special celebration for anyone who can enjoy being Irish for at least once a year.
Want to see fascinating alternative films at no cost? Dr. Co invites you to 308 Cooper in West Hancock Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. For weekly information post: firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also a Nordic film at Finlandia March 8 at 2 and 6 p.m.