Gaspard Manesse plays Julien, an 11-year-old Catholic boarding-school resident during the Nazi occupation of France. He is witness to the courage of his instructors, who defy the German's anti-Semitic policies and quietly enroll Jewish children into the school under assumed names. Manesse befriends Jean (Raphael Fejto), one of these instant Catholics.
The refugee children are betrayed by a hostile ex-employee of the school, forcing Julien once more to be a bystander to history as Jean and the teachers are arrested. For this return to the French film industry after several years in the US, Louis Malle purged himself of his own bitter memories of life under the thumbs of the Nazis.