A dysfunctional and sometimes violent romance happens between Mathieu (Fernando Rey), a middle-aged, wealthy Frenchman, and a young, impoverished, and beautiful flamenco dancer from Seville, Conchita, played by Carole Bouquet and Ángela Molina. The two actresses each appear unpredictably in separate scenes, and differ not only physically, but temperamentally as well.
Most of the film is a flashback recalled by Mathieu. The movie opens with Mathieu travelling by train from Seville to Paris. He is trying to distance himself from his young girlfriend Conchita. As Mathieu's train is ready to depart, he finds that a bruised and bandaged Conchita is pursuing him. From the train he pours a bucket of water over her head. He believes this will deter her, but she sneaks aboard.
Mathieu's fellow compartment passengers witness his rude act. These include a mother and her young daughter, a judge who is coincidentally a friend of Mathieu's cousin, and a psychologist who is a dwarf. They inquire about his motivation for such an act, and he then explains the history of his tumultuous relationship with Conchita. The story is set against a backdrop of terrorist bombings and shootings by left-wing groups.
Conchita, who claims to be 18 but looks older, has vowed to remain a virgin until marriage. She tantalizes Mathieu with sexual promises, but never allows him to satisfy his sexual desire. At one point she goes to bed with him wearing a tightly laced canvas corset, which he cannot untie, making it impossible to have sexual intercourse. Conchita's antics cause the couple to break up and reunite repeatedly, each time frustrating and confusing Mathieu.
Eventually, Mathieu finds Conchita dancing nude for tourists in a Seville nightclub. At first he becomes enraged. Later, however, he forgives her and buys her a house. In a climactic scene, soon after moving into the house, Conchita refuses to let Mathieu in at the gate, tells him that she hates him, and that kissing and touching him make her sick. Then, to prove her independence, she appears to initiate sexual intercourse with a young man in plain view of Mathieu, although he walks away without witnessing the act. Later that night he is held up at gunpoint as his car is hijacked.
After this, Conchita attempts to reconcile with Mathieu, insisting that the sex was fake and that her "lover" is in reality a homosexual friend. However, during her explanation, Mathieu beats her (she then says "Now I'm sure you love me"), causing her bandaged and bruised state seen earlier in the film.
Just as the fellow train passengers seem satisfied with this story, Conchita reappears from hiding and dumps a bucket of water on Mathieu. However, the couple apparently reconcile yet again when the train reaches its destination. After leaving the train, they walk arm in arm, enjoying the streets of Madrid.
Later in a mall in Paris, loudspeakers announce that a strange alliance of extremist groups intends to sow chaos and confusion in society through terrorist attacks. The announcement adds that several right-wing groups plan to counter-attack. As the couple continues their walk, they pass a seamstress in a shop window mending a bloody nightgown. They begin arguing just as a bomb explodes, apparently claiming their lives.
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