This French film takes place in 1944 during the German occupation of France. Twelve-year-old Julien (Gaspard Manesse) attends a Catholic boarding school outside Paris. With his brains, independence, and bravado, he is a natural leader. While some of his classmates make things difficult for a new boy named Jean (Raphael Fejto), Julien is curious about his intelligence, his artistic talent, and his mysterious past. At first competitors, the two become friends. When Julien learns by accident that Jean is Jewish and is being hidden from the Nazis by the schoolmaster, events move so swiftly that he is overwhelmed. In the final scene in the film, Julien watches Jean, two other Jewish boys, and the priest being led away by the Gestapo to certain death.

Writer-director Louis Malle says this film was " inspired by the most tragic memory of my childhood," and that its aim is to evoke one boy's "discovery of the real world — its violence, its disorder, its prejudices." Malle conveys how youth absorb the bigotry of adults and mime in their games and competitions the irrationalities of war. Au Revoir Les Enfants is the best film of Malle's distinguished career, and it is certainly the one for which he will always be remembered.