In 1798, Napoleon I has launched an invasion of Egypt.
A frail and elderly artist, Jean-Michel Venture de Paradis (Michel Piccoli), has been commissioned by Napoleon to sketch the landscape and monuments of Egypt. French soldier Augustin Robert (Ben Daniels) has been assigned to keep Venture from being harassed by the other soldiers, but the unrelenting burden of this task soon takes its toll on Augustin.
Mameluks attack the regiment’s small encampment. In the aftermath, Augustin and Venture are now separated from their regiment. Walking in the arid landscape, under the blaze of the desert sun, they begin to suffer an unquenchable thirst, and Augustin is infuriated when the artist uses the last of their water to mix his paints….