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 follows Maxime Nathan and his Jewish family in France during the years leading up to World War II. François Grimbert (played as a young boy by Valentin Vigourt and as an adolescent by Mathieu Amalric) grows up in Paris in the 1950s. He is the skinny, sickly son of two marvelously athletic parents, Tania (Cécile de France) and Maxime (Patrick Bruel). For a while, he dreams of a stronger, fitter, more charismatic older brother to compensate for his own feelings of inadequacy. Only gradually does he learn of his parents' tragic past and that he has a sibling — a half-brother named Simon, his father's first son.
In 1942, 10-year-old Sarah Starzynski (Mélusine Mayance) hides her younger brother from French police by locking him in a secret closet and telling him to stay there until she returns. She takes the key with her when she and her parents are transported to the Vélodrome d'Hiver, where they are held in inhuman conditions by the Paris Police and French Secret Service.
During the winter of 1943-44, Julien Quentin, a student at a Carmelite boarding school in occupied France, is returning to school from vacation. He acts tough to the students at the school, but he is actually a pampered mother's boy who still wets his bed. Saddened to be returning to the tedium of boarding school, Julien's classes seem uneventful until Père Jean, the headmaster, introduces three new pupils. One of them, Jean Bonnet, is the same age as Julien. Like the other students, Julien at first despises Bonnet, a socially awkward boy with a talent for arithmetic and playing the piano.
In Paris during the German occupation, an ill-assorted group of resistance fighters commits disorganized attacks. Missak Manouchian, an Armenian exile, is ready to help but is reluctant to kill; for him, being ready to die but not to kill is an ethical matter. However, circumstances lead him to abandon his reluctance. Under his leadership, the group structures and plans its actions and thus the Manouchian network is born. The film traces the story of this group, from its shaping to the execution of its members in 1944.
In May 1940 a packed train takes refugees from a French village near the Belgian border away from the advancing German forces.. On it are Julien, a short-sighted radio repairer, and his pregnant wife and daughter. The women are given priority in a carriage at the front while he has to scramble into a cattle truck at the rear. There he is struck by a mysterious and beautiful young woman on her own.
In 1944 Lucien Lacombe, a 17-year-old peasant living in the Lot region of south-western France, is rejected by the French Resistance. Pro-German collaborators obtain information from him about a resistance leader and recruit him into the "Milice Francaise", a fascist group that hunts down Resistance fighters.
En 1942, les lois antisémites du gouvernement de Vichy contraignent les deux ainés d’un coiffeur juif de Paris à fuir vers la zone libre. Un peu plus tard, les deux autres frères s’enfuient également pour gagner le Sud de la France. Ils réussissent à passer la ligne de démarcation et rejoignent Menton où ils vont retrouver leurs frères et bientôt leurs parents.
Le film retrace l'histoire du groupe Manouchian, surnommé "L'armée du crime", composé de vingt-trois résistants (dont une femme qui fut décapitée ultérieurement), la plupart d'origine étrangère, fusillés à l'aube du 21 février 1944 sur le Mont Valérien, pour l'exemple. Une trentaine d'années plus tard des comédiens s'apprêtent à recevoir certains survivants de cette douloureuse période qui ont connu ou côtoyé ces martyrs de la Résistance et qui souhaitent faire corps avec les acteurs présents qui s'apprêtent à investir les personnages des divers résistants pour mettre en scène le souvenir et la mémoire des victimes et des rares rescapés de l'époque...
C'est l'histoire d'un cinéaste qui veut réaliser depuis 20 ans le même film, autobiographique. Parallèlement à sa vie actuelle, il tourne avec un opérateur en reportage et avec des petits moyens, une chronique du temps présent. Tous les éléments de sa vie d'enfant, vie rêvée, souvenirs transposés et irréalistes, viennent se confondre au présent.
A Paris, en 1943, Jules, un juif de dix-neuf ans, vit sans idéal, ballotté par les circonstances. Il devient tour à tour traître puis héros. Thomas, son frère de quinze ans, veut, pour sa part, agir et se battre dans la résistance. Tous deux aiment Ana Maria, une résistante espagnole prête à se sacrifier pour libérer la France occupée. Ces jeunes gens vont faire leur apprentissage de la vie en étant confrontés à des évènements historiques exceptionnels.
Dans la France occupée, Maurice et Joseph, deux jeunes frères juifs, sont envoyés par leurs parents dans la zone libre et font preuve de malice, de courage et d’ingéniosité pour échapper aux occupants et tenter de réunir à nouveau leur famille.
Claude (Alain Cohen) is an 8-year-old Jewish boy living in France during the Nazi occupation. To reduce the chance that he would be sent to Auschwitz or a similar fate, his parents send him to live with a farm family, the elderly parents of Catholic friends of his parents. (In reality, many French urban Jews made similar choices for their children.) The elderly couple honestly think that the boy has been sent to live with them because Paris is dangerous; it never crosses their mind that Claude is a Jew.
Paris, January 1942. France is occupied by the Nazis. Robert Klein, apparently apolitical, is a well-to-do art dealer, Roman Catholic and Alsatian by birth, who takes advantage of French Jews who need to sell artworks to raise cash to leave the country. One day, the local Jewish newspaper, addressed to him, is delivered to his home. He learns that another Robert Klein who has been living in Paris, a Jew sought by the police, has had his mail forwarded to him in an apparent attempt to destroy his social reputation and make him a target of official anti-Semitism. He reports this to the police who remain suspicious that he may be reporting this scheme to disguise his own true identity. His own investigations lead him in contradictory directions, to Klein who lives in a slum while having an affair with his concierge and to Klein who visits a palatial country estate where he has seduced an apparently Jewish married woman. When the art dealer cannot locate the other Klein, authorities require him to offer proof of his French heritage. While waiting for the documentation to arrive, he struggles to track down his namesake and learn his motivation. Before he can resolve the situation by either means, he is caught up in the July 1942 roundup of Parisian Jews. He is reunited with Jews who once were his clients as they board boxcars for Germany.