Home > Reviews > LA NOUVELLE GUERRE DES BOUTONS – Philippe Rombi


Original Review by Craig Lysy

The story of La Nouvelle Guerre des Boutons was adapted from Louis Pergaud’s 1912 novel and is a remake of Yves Robert’s 1962 film of the same name. It is a comedy with an anti-war narrative sub-text. Set in France circa 1944, it tells the tale of schoolboys from the neighboring villages of Longeverne and Velrans have formed two opposing factions, which have been waging a mock war for as long as anyone can remember. After each battle the victor’s spoils would be the taking of buttons off the clothes of the vanquished. Hoping to turn the tide of the conflict, one team of the boys employ a strategy of running into battle naked, thus depriving the opposing boys nothing to steal. Fate would have it however that after this amazing victory, one of the boys defects to the other side. This turncoat reveals a weakness in his former camp that allows his new teammates to launch a secret attack that brings victory. The traitor’s betrayal is discovered and he is punished for his treachery. Not done, he informs his superiors and parents that he has been beaten up by bullies. This upsets the entire apple cart as his mom and dad escalate the conflict with the opposing schoolmates resulting in jail time.

La Nouvelle Guerre des Boutons is the second of two War of the Buttons movies released in France in 2011 (the other was directed by Yann Samuell and scored by Klaus Badelt). For its music, director Christophe Barratier remembered being enraptured by the End Credits music of the film “Une Hirondelle a Fait le Printemps”. When he discovered that Philippe Rombi was the composer, he resolved to collaborate with him on some future film. His opportunity arose with “War of the Buttons” and was most pleased when Rombi accepted the assignment. Rombi quickly understood the film’s narrative and composed a number of fine themes. The Main Theme is a confident and youthful statement that animates the film and speaks to the boundless energy of youth. Conversely, the Secondary Theme is more subtle, gentile and intimate in its expression, more attuned to private and more personal interactions. Lastly, the Tertiary Theme is sad and filled with pathos, which speaks to the issues that confront the children when events spin out of control.

In “Générique Début” we open idyllically on tender strings alight with chimes and glockenspiel accents. Rombi wastes no time launching his sumptuous string laden Main Theme, which has faint portentous accents of muted militaristic snare drums. We close with the theme reprised on solo flute and kindred woodwinds. What a fine introduction! “Arrivée au Village” opens with tremolo strings over which solo flute and then solo oboe dance before launching into the lyrical Main Theme on strings. Once again chimes and glockenspiel add a sense of child-like wonder that is both heart-warming and endearing. The theme shifts to and fro from the strings to the woodwinds, finally ending with a tender solo piano line that plays over tremolo violins. “À Travers Champs” is a short cue, which again features the Main Theme, this time replete with harp glissandi and a swelling statement adorned with horns.

“En Territoire Ennemi” is a tense cue that reveals the Veltran boys in enemy territory. The music is more textural than thematic, with perhaps fleeting attempts of the Main Theme to assert itself. The music features tense string writing and staccato woodwinds. Muted trumpets and snare drums accent a harsh low register string ostinato as the boys make a stealth approach. “L’Attaque du Ponton” opens tentatively with tremolo strings and woodwinds that yield to dark bass and discordant wailing horns as the Veltran boys prepare their attack. At 0:50 all hell breaks loose as pounding drums and a celli ostinato propel the action. A rousing trumpet line joins the fray with string glissandi as the ostinato shifts to the violins, yet the energy dissipates and we end with a diminuendo of woodwinds. “Paul et Simone” is a tender piece and for me a delight. Rombi introduces his tender Secondary Theme with gentle flute, harp, tender strings and piano, which join to create a most beautiful ambiance.

“Les Longeverne Contre-Attaquent/Le Premier Bouton” begins with animated horn fare and vigorous strings as the music moves forward with youthful confidence. But we shift gears as a stealth approach is required, and so strings and sprightly woodwinds join to create a tense ambiance. Throughout the piece we hear echoes of the Main Theme that finally emerges for a beautiful statement near its conclusion. The way Rombi weaves the tapestry of this cue is just wonderful! “La sortie au muse” is short piece that sparkles, with a brief reprise of the Main Theme. “L’Arrestation” is a complex cue where ostinato rhythms shift among the strings, joined by pizzicato textures and harp, all serving to create palpable tension. Slowly the tension builds as snare drums enter; yet the drive dissipates, yielding to a solo flute and lyrical strings, which conclude the cue. In “Les Gibus Prisonniers” woodwinds echo the Main Theme as Rombi introduces comic textures. At 0:48 the music tries to take off atop a string ostinato, stalls, then regains its determination as woodwinds and horns join providing energy. Soon timpani begin pounding, contested by violins, which begin yet fail to succeed in emoting the Main Theme. This is very creative writing, which I found quite enjoyable.

“La Capture de Lebrac” opens with a boys chorale lamentoso supported by drums and a violin ostinato. Lebrac’s capture is scored by Rombi alla marcia funebre, which is brilliantly conceived. In “Bataille des Guerriers Grecs” begins with bassoon and pizzicato strings performing the steady cadence of a march. An interlude of eerie ambient textures leads to a breakout at 1:02 upon trumpets, drums and ostinato strings as the battle unfolds. The Main Theme sounds on trumpets, and fades to solo flute from which a diminuendo concludes the cue. “À la Mode de Paris” opens with cello, which introduces tremolo violins, harp and woodwinds that struggle to emote the Main Theme. Yet it does rise upon solo piano and flute for a tender statement with brief comic interludes, ultimately concluding with a diminuendo. In “Pythagore et la Résistance” we again hear Rombi’s tender and sentimental Secondary Theme carried by flute, kindred woodwinds and harp. Yet it quickly yields to textures of trepidation as unease creeps back into the music. “Le Journal de Violette” opens with solo flute emoting the opening phrase of the Main Theme with xylophone and sparkling glockenspiel accents. The music quickly shifts gears and becomes playful if not comic, before returning to its prior gentile ambiance. The piano takes up the melodic line with the flute and strings now supportive until we behold as stirring ascent by strings, which ushers in a refulgent rendering of the Main Theme alight with chimes and glockenspiel that is just wondrous! This is a wonderful cue!

“Lebrac et Violette” features the Main Theme emoted tenderly by flute and harp with lyrical strings. Accents by oboe and piano create a beautiful synergy, which ultimately leads to a swelling of the theme of strings. This is just another beautiful cue. “Le Duel” is really a score highlight that features complex and powerful writing. We open dramatically with horns ushering in and propelling the Main Theme, which has shed its recent gentile ambiance and become militarized. After a comic interlude, a harsh bass ostinato and horn fare begin an ominous marcia bellicoso that grows increasing complex and menacing as the bass ostinato shifts to the violins and pounding timpani join. Yet the energy dissipates and solemn strings joined by a pastoral piccolo carry the lyrical flow to conclude the cue. “La Lettre et le Feu” features interplay of the Main Theme, the Secondary Theme and the Tertiary Theme, which is very poignant and resonates great emotional power. We open with harp and a string sustain, which usher in the Main Theme on woodwinds with the sad seven-note Tertiary Theme on strings playing in counterpoint. The Tertiary Theme proceeds alone on piano and tremolo violins as we feel deep sadness. Bell tolls bring quivers and strengthen the pathos as the Tertiary Theme returns upon piano with wordless boy’s chorus, which unleashes an orchestral crescendo of great dramatic power. Yet the moment is shattered by and interlude of harsh tremolo strings, discordant muted trumpets and frantic woodwinds, before returning to the former solemnity atop the Tertiary Theme. We conclude with ominous dark bass chords, reverential horns, timpani and tremolo violins from which rises a very sad rendering of the Secondary Theme. This cue is just outstanding and one of my favorites of the score.

“La Solitude de Lebrac/La Milice Aux Trousses” is a complex cue, which ebbs and flows like the tides. We continue the pathos of sadness from the earlier cue atop the Tertiary Theme. Piano, wordless boy’s chorus and tremolo violins again convey grief, yet swirling strings rise and attempt to break free until the Main Theme returns on impassioned strings with rousing horn fare and pounding timpani. From here we see ebb and flow as the Main Theme struggles to rise only to subside. We conclude with a brief statement of the Tertiary Theme that dissipates on a bass sustain. This cue again features very fine writing. “Final” is a wondrous cue and a score highlight, which features a fine interplay of themes. We open brightly on sparkling strings and harp. Soft horns usher in an intimate rendering of the Tertiary Theme that joins the Main Theme, both now emoted by solo flute in a heart-warming interplay. We transition fully to the Tertiary Theme on piano and strings, which now solely carries the melodic line. Yet the Main Theme returns anew, first on piano with violins and then finally swelling on full orchestra for a wondrous refulgent affirming statement that says that all is well with the world. The beauty of this final statement is simply glorious and brings both tears and a quiver.

In “Ouverture” Rombi writes a piece for the ages. It is a classic overture, which features an extraordinarily beautiful interplay of themes. Performed sumptuously by lush strings, intimate solo piano, solo flute and ultimately full orchestra, this cue is simply abounding in an uncommon lyrical beauty that is simply breath taking. My hands were simply powerless to type anything while listening and I regret ending this wonderful journey.

I offer my sincere thanks to Cyril Durand-Roger and Laurent Lafarge of Music Box Records for producing this extraordinarily beautiful score. The sound quality is pristine as is customary for their label. This score is a classic journey that must be taken! It begins with a sense of wonder and progressively builds to a wondrous heart warming conclusion with the final five cues simply glorious! Rombi, long recognized for his lyricism, provides three wonderful themes, which he entwines and interplays with a skill many composers can only envy. I highly recommend this score for you collection, and given that only 1,000 copies were pressed suggest you order quickly.

Rating: ****½

Buy the Nouvelle Guerre des Boutons soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Générique Début (2:17)
  • Arrivée au Village (2:11)
  • À Travers Champs (0:40)
  • En Territoire Ennemi (1:53)
  • L’Attaque du Ponton (2:13)
  • Paul et Simone (1:23)
  • Les Longeverne Contre-Attaquent/Le Premier Bouton (4:25)
  • La Sortie au Musée (1:07)
  • L’Arrestation (2:50)
  • Les Gibus Prisonniers (3:01)
  • La Capture de Lebrac (1:36)
  • Bataille des Guerriers Grecs (2:07)
  • À la Mode de Paris (2:46)
  • Pythagore et la Résistance (1:35)
  • Le Journal de Violette (4:21)
  • Lebrac et Violette (2:20)
  • Le Duel (4:03)
  • La Lettre et le Feu (3:41)
  • La Solitude de Lebrac/La Milice Aux Trousses (3:27)
  • Final (4:23)
  • Ouverture (4:26)

Running Time: 57 minutes 44 seconds

Music Box Records MBR-010 (2011)

Music composed, conducted and orchestrated by Philippe Rombi. Featured musical soloists Philippe Rombi and Alain Menard. Recorded and mixed by Stephane Reichart. Album produced by Jerome Lateur, Cyril Durand-Roger and Laurent Lafarge.

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