In September 1939, Władysław Szpilman (Adrien Brody), a Polish-Jewish pianist, is playing live on the radio in Warsaw when the station is bombed during Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland which caused the outbreak of World War II. Hoping for a quick victory, Szpilman celebrates with his posh family at home when learning that Britain and France have declared war on Germany. German troops soon enter Warsaw and the Nazi authorities implement measures to identify, isolate, financially ruin and reduce the Jewish population in Warsaw. Jews are ordered to provide their own identifying armbands with the Star of David.
Five French soldiers are convicted of self-mutilation in order to escape military service during World War I. They are condemned to face near certain death in the no man's land between the French and German trench lines. It appears that all of them were killed in a subsequent battle, but Mathilde, the fiancée of one of the soldiers, refuses to give up hope and begins to uncover clues as to what actually took place on the battlefield. She is all the while driven by the constant reminder of what her fiancé had carved into one of the bells of the church near their home, MMM for Manech Aime Mathilde (Manech Loves Mathilde; a pun on the French word aime, which is pronounced like the letter "M". In the English-language version, this is changed to "Manech's Marrying Mathilde").
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.
The bucolic beauty of Greece's Ionian islands has been invaded by Italy, bringing a large Italian garrison and a few Germans to the tranquil island of Cephallonia, which immediately surrenders. Captain Antonio Corelli, a Greek-speaking officer of the Italian 33rd Acqui Infantry Division with an irrepressibly jovial personality and a passion for the mandolin, and who trains his battery of men – who have never fired a shot – in choral singing, initially alienates a number of the villagers, including Pelagia. The daughter of the village doctor, Pelagia, is an educated and strong-willed woman, and while at first offended by the Italian soldier's behaviour, she slowly warms to his certain charm as they are forced to share her father's home when the doctor agrees to put him up in exchange for medical supplies.
Changes are coming for the Gendarmerie Brigade of Saint Tropez. The gendarmes are forced into retirement to make way for a younger breed. Even so, when they learn that one of them has had an accident and has become amnesiac, they reunite to help him get his memory back. Along the way, they have to stop juvenile delinquents to put a nuclear warhead on a rocket said youths built, while being pursued by their younger colleagues.
Four young beautiful female police officers come to learn from the "masters" but it turns out they are coping much better with the problem than their teachers. But things heat up when the "gendarmettes" are kidnapped one by one.
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.
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.
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.
Lyon Gaultier is a paratrooper in the French Foreign Legion, stationed in Djibouti, North Africa. His brother, who is married to an American woman in Los Angeles, is burned alive during a deal gone wrong and suffers third-degree burns, dying shortly afterward. Lyon deserts his legion when they withhold letters from his brother's wife and ultimately refuse to let him see his brother. He steals a jeep and escapes through the desert, finding work on a tramp steamer headed for the U.S. Meanwhile, the Legion commanding officer also travels to the States, arriving at the French Embassy, where he is told that Lyon's desertion is ranked at low importance with the LAPD, so he orders two of his own Legionnaires to do the job.
The film begins in North Africa where large numbers of indigènes (French Algerian Tirailleurs as well as Tunisian or Moroccan Goumiers) have been recruited into the French First Army of the Free French Forces, that has been formed to liberate France of the Nazi occupation in World War II.
The story centers mainly upon six characters: Gordon (a Lieutenant of the Royal Scots Fusiliers); Audebert (a French Lieutenant in the 26th Infantry and reluctant son of a general); Horstmayer (a Jewish German Lieutenant of the 93rd Infantry); Palmer (a Scottish priest working as a stretcher-bearer); and German tenor Nikolaus Sprink and his Danish fiance, mezzo-soprano, Anna Sørensen (two famous opera stars).
In 1911, a willful and determined man from peasant stock named Charles Saganne (Gérard Depardieu) enlists in the military and is assigned to the Sahara Desert under the aristocratic Colonel Dubreuilh (Philippe Noiret). Saganne attracts the attentions of Madeleine (Sophie Marceau), the daughter of the regional administrator. In the Sahara, Saganne earns the respect of the Arabs, including Amajan, an independent warrior. After several campaigns, Saganne travels to Paris on a diplomatic mission. After having an affair with a journalist in Paris, Saganne returns to Africa, where he leads a valliant defense against Sultan Omar. He is awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour, and marries Madeleine. The onset of World War I puts his success and happiness at risk.
In Nazi-occupied France, Lucille Angellier and her domineering mother-in-law await news of her husband. A regiment of German soldiers arrives, and promptly moves into the homes of the villagers. Lucille tries to ignore Bruno, the German commander coopting her house, but he soon infatuates her.