The film takes place in May of 1805, during the Napoleonic Wars. Captain "Lucky Jack" Aubrey of HMS Surprise is ordered to pursue the French privateer Acheron, and "Sink, Burn, or take her as a Prize." As the film opens, the British warship is ambushed by Acheron; Surprise is heavily damaged, while its own cannon fire does not penetrate the enemy ship's hull. Using smaller boats, the crew of Surprise tow the ship into a fog bank and evade pursuit. Aubrey learns from a crewman who saw Acheron being built that it is heavier and faster than Surprise, and the senior officers consider the ship out of their class. Aubrey notes that such a ship could tip the balance of power in Napoleon's favour if allowed to plunder the British whaling fleet at will. He orders pursuit of Acheron, rather than returning to port for repairs. Acheron again ambushes Surprise, but Aubrey slips away in the night by using a clever decoy buoy and ships lamps.
France is under the reign of a cruel and self-centered version of King Louis XIV (DiCaprio), who spends his time declaring a war against the Dutch, distributing rotten food to the rioting citizens of Paris, and seducing women trying in vain to win his heart and become queen.
In Venice at the beginning of the 17th century, the Three Musketeers, Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Porthos (Ray Stevenson), and Aramis (Luke Evans), with the help of Athos' longtime lover, Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich), steal airship blueprints made by Leonardo da Vinci. However, they are betrayed by Milady, who gives the blueprints to the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom). Upon returning to France, the Musketeers are forced to disband by Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) for their failure, and they end up on the streets of Paris.
The film begins during the French Revolution, with the aged Marquis d'Apcher as the narrator, writing his memoirs in a castle, while the voices of a mob can be heard from outside. The film flashes back to 1764, when a mysterious beast terrorized the province of Gévaudan and nearby lands.
As a child, Joan has a violent and supernatural vision. She returns home to find her village burning. Her sister Catherine tries to protect her by hiding her from the attacking English forces, part of a longstanding rivalry with France. Joan, while hiding, witnesses the brutal murder and rape of her sister. Afterward, Joan is taken in by distant relatives.
Fourteen-year-old Maria Antonia Josephina Johanna Habsburg (Kirsten Dunst) is the beautiful, charming, and naive archduchess of Austria, youngest of Empress Maria Theresa's (Marianne Faithfull) daughters. In 1770, the only one left unmarried among her sisters, she is sent by her mother to marry the Dauphin of France, the future Louis XVI of France (Jason Schwartzman), to seal an alliance between the two rival countries. Marie Antoinette travels to France, relinquishing all connections with her home country, including her pet Pug "Mops", and meets the King Louis XV of France (Rip Torn) and her future husband, Louis Auguste. The two arrive at the Palace of Versailles, which was built by the King's great-grandfather. They are married at once, and are encouraged to produce an heir to the throne as soon as possible; but the next day it is reported to the king that "nothing happened" on the wedding night.
Jo Weisman, a young Jewish Parisian, and his family are taken by the Nazis and Vichy collaborators in the rafle du Vel' d'Hiv. Anna Traube, a 20-year-old woman, walks out of the velodrome with forged papers; her mother and sister are captured. Annette Monod, a Protestant nurse, volunteers for the velodrome, and assists Jewish doctor David Sheinbaum. From the Vélodrome d'Hiver Jo's family and Sheinbaum are transferred to the Beaune-la-Rolande internment camp. Monod comes along. She does what she can to help the children, who are soon falling sick from the camp diet and conditions.
The film is a parody of the historical spectacular film genre anthology, including the sword and sandal epic and the period costume drama subgenres. The four main segments consist of stories set during the Stone Age, the Roman Empire, the Spanish Inquisition, and the French Revolution. Other intermediate skits include reenactments of the giving of the Ten Commandments and the Last Supper.
Set in 1952 in Saigon, Vietnam, toward the end of the French war against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (1945-1954), on one level The Quiet American is a love story about the triangle that develops between Thomas Fowler, a British journalist in his fifties; a young American idealist, supposedly an aid worker, named Alden Pyle; and Phuong, a Vietnamese woman. On another level it is also about the growing American involvement that led to the full-scale American war in Vietnam.
As a young boy, d'Artagnan witnesses the murder of his parents at the hands of Febre (Tim Roth), chief henchman of Cardinal Richelieu (Stephen Rea). d'Artagnan is nearly killed after using his dead father's sword to fight Febre which leaves him with a permanent scar and blinds him in one eye. d'Artagnan is taken in by family friend Planchet (Jean-Pierre Castaldi), a former musketeer, one of the loyal protectors of King Louis XIII (Daniel Mesguich).
In the French Alps, during the year 1943, Sébastien is a seven year old orphan boy living with César, an adoptive "grandfather" and his daughter, Angélina. The unusual little family lives in the small village of Saint-Martin, whose inhabitants, despite the German occupation, secretly organize the passage of Jewish exiles into Switzerland. The village is also plagued by a mysterious "Beast" who preys on the flocks of the shepherds and the inhabitants, including Cesar's animals. Sébastien is a very lonely child who is suffering from the absence of his mother. He believes that she migrated "to America, just over the mountains", and spends all his days in the mountains. One day, on the way home, he meets a huge dog, wild and completely discredited: it is the so-called "Beast". Sébastien is not slow to make friends with the animal, a female sheepdog, and names her "Belle" because he is struck by her beauty after she is cleaned up from the mud that she was coated with. Sebastian decides to keep his friendship with Belle secret to protect her.
In 1930 marked by growing anti-colonial unrest, Éliane Devries (Catherine Deneuve), a single woman born to French parents in colonial Indochina, runs her and her widowed father's (Henri Marteau) large rubber plantation with many indentured laborers, whom she casually refers to as her coolies, and divides her days between her homes at the plantation and outside Saigon. After her best friends from the Nguyễn Dynasty die in a plane crash, she adopts their five-year-old daughter Camille (Ba Hoang, as child). Guy Asselin (Jean Yanne), the head of the French security services in Indochina, courts Éliane, but she rejects him and raises Camille alone giving her the education of a privileged European through her teens.
Héléna Bourdelle, called "The Bourdelle," is a great singer and wife of maestro André Bourdelle. Joining the Resistance, he is killed by the accidental explosion of a grenade. Following the defeat, the family's mansion is taken over by German forces, leaving the family occupying a few back rooms, complaining to the Kommandantur about his excesses and those of his men. Bourdelle, her daughters and their tenant help by chance an English soldier to escape and are then forced to hide him. The family, whose former caretaker Ramirez has become a Gestapo agent, is favoured by the General Spontz who has a soft spot for Bernadette Bourdelle. He is willing to ignore the fact that Guy-Hubert, son of the family, a seemingly cowardly and effeminate hairdresser, is actually the elusive vigilante known as "Super-Resistant".
Set during the German occupation of Paris during the Second World War, it tells the story of Lucas Steiner, a Jewish theatre director and his Gentile wife, Marion Steiner, who struggles to keep him concealed from the Nazis in their theatre cellar while she performs both his former job as the director and hers as an actress.