The film relates an historical case of identity theft. Martin Guerre leaves his young wife in a small French village to go fight in a war and travel. Many years later, a man (played by Depardieu) claiming to be Martin returns to resume his life. The man is initially acknowledged and welcomed by family and friends because he seems to know the details of Martin's life, but later villagers grow suspicious that he is an impostor. The story ends with his trial.
In 1983, a book of the same name was published by Natalie Zemon Davis, an American historian of early modern France. She had served as a consultant and helped write the screenplay for the film. She was a professor at Princeton University.
Sommersby is a 1993 Hollywood remake of the film in English, transposed to the American Civil War and starring Richard Gere and Jodie Foster. A West End musical produced by Cameron Mackintosh, Martin Guerre, is loosely based on the film with additional material from historical accounts, though the historical setting is again transposed, in this case the period of religious turmoil between the Huguenots and the Catholics in sixteenth century France.
- Gérard Depardieu - "Martin Guerre" (Arnaud du Tilh)
- Nathalie Baye - Bertrande de Rols
- Maurice Barrier - Uncle Pierre Guerre
- Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu - Martin Guerre
- Isabelle Sadoyan - Catherine Boëre
- Rose Thiéry - Raimonde de Rols
- Chantal Deruaz - Jeanne
- Maurice Jacquemont - Judge Rieux
- Roger Planchon - Jean de Coras
- Francis Arnaud -
- Philippe Babin - Jacques
- Axel Bogousslavsky -
- Valérie Chassigneux - Guillemette
- Neige Dolsky -
- Adrien Duquesne - Sanxi Guerre
- Gilbert Gilles -
- Tchéky Karyo - Augustin
- Jean-Claude Perrin -
- Dominique Pinon - Antoine