In Jean Vigo's only feature-length film a couple goes from their wedding onto a barge with only two others; their love is threatened by his jealousy.
After their wedding Jean (Jean Dasté) and Juliette (Dita Parlo) walk to the Atalante barge, where Pere Jules (Michel Simon) and the cabin boy lose flowers and pick more for them. In the morning they sing for the bride. Juliette tells Jean she saw his face in water before they met, and he tries to see hers. Several cats are on board, and Juliette gathers the laundry. While Jean steers the barge, Juliette sews. Pere Jules gets fresh with her, but she has him try on a skirt. They dock in Paris. Pere Jules shows Juliette a music box and other memorabilia from his travels around the world. He exposes his tattoos that include a naked woman on his back. When Juliette combs Pere Jules' hair, Jean gets very angry, breaking plates and other things in Jules' room. Juliette asks to go out in Paris, and Jean gets dressed up; but Jules says he is going to a doctor with the kid. A gypsy tells Jules that the cards are with him. Juliette and Jean go to bed. When Jules comes back drunk, they get up to put him to bed.
Jean casts off from Paris. He takes Juliette to a cafe, where they are entertained by a peddler doing magic. When the peddler dances seductively with Juliette, Jean gets jealous and knocks him down. Jean leaves Juliette on the barge and goes out. The peddler gives Juliette a scarf, but Jean makes him leave. Jean finds that Juliette is gone and tells Jules they are departing. Jules says they have two days, but Jean sails. Juliette returns, but the barge is gone. She asks for a ticket to Corbeil, but a thief takes her money and runs, chased by a mob. Juliette walks the streets. On the barge Jules plays checkers with Jean, who quits. Jules fixes his record-player. Jean dives in the water, and underwater he imagines Juliette. Jean listens to Jules' record-player. Jean and Juliette are in different beds far apart, but both are restless. Jean runs on the shore and wanders on the dock till Jules takes him back to do his business. Jules tries to handle it and tells the kid that Jean was nearly fired. Jules goes looking for Juliette. After a time Jules brings Juliette back to Jean, and they embrace.
After its director Vigo died young, a herd of critics has raved about this realistic film and its "poetic images," causing many people to think of ways to like it more than they probably would otherwise. The drama explores with intimate sensitivity the fragility of a new marriage and the dilemma posed when strong love causes equally strong jealousy.