Yet, while the latter two films seem busily complex in their plots, structures, and character motivations, Becker’s work seems, on the surface, quite simple. Its story is so slender it can be summed up in a few sentences. On a Sunday boating trip a group of Belle Époque gangster’s and their whores stop by a country inn, where they boisterously drink and dance. The most beautiful of these women, Marie, however, is not happy with her current beau, Roland (William Sabatier), with whom she constantly argues. One of the gang members, Raymond (Raymond Bussières), meets up with an old friend, Georges Manda (Serge Reggiani), a former gang member but now a simple carpenter—to whom Marie is immediately sexually drawn—and despite Roland’s anger, Georges and Marie dance, at the end of which Roland attempts to attack Georges, who quickly knocks him out. The following day, Marie is missing, and gang members have been sent out to bring her back. She is apparently staying with one of her women friends, but soon after visiting the gang leader, Félix Leca—who would also like to have a relationship with her—she visits the carpenter, where she is spurned by his bosses’ daughter, whom is obviously attracted to or having an affair with Georges
Raymond sends a message for Georges to meet him in the country, but when Georges does so, it is apparent it was Marie who written to him, and for a few days the two have a passionate affair at the small cottage run by La mere d’Eugène (Odette Barencey) before there are tracked down. Meanwhile, the gang head turns informant to his police detective friend, suggesting that Raymond has been the murderer. When Raymond is arrested, Georges—out of loyalty to his beloved friend—returns to Paris, turning himself in. Raymond discovers that he has been framed by Leca, and is held as an accessory. Georges is carted away to prison, and in the last scene, as Marie watches from a nearby window, is guillotined.
This is a world in which even the dancers move in spirals, in dizzying spins, legs and heads in place. Even the joyous boat party of the first scenes is a movement through the horizon. The closest these figures get to heaven is in Marie’s radiant gold hair, but that is just a “helmet.”