Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is a youthful, dangerous criminal who models himself on the film persona of Humphrey Bogart. After stealing a car in Marseille, Michel shoots and kills a policeman who has followed him onto a country road. Penniless and on the run from the police, he turns to an American love interest Patricia (Jean Seberg), a student and aspiring journalist, who sells the New York Herald Tribune on the boulevards of Paris. The ambivalent Patricia unwittingly hides him in her apartment as he simultaneously tries to seduce her and call in a loan to fund their escape to Italy. Patricia says she is pregnant, probably with Michel’s child. She learns that Michel is on the run when questioned by the police. Eventually she betrays him, but before the police arrive, she tells Michel what she has done. He is somewhat resigned to a life in prison, and does not try to escape at first. The police shoot him in the street, and after a prolonged death run, he dies “à bout de souffle” (out of breath).

Michel’s death scene is an iconic scene in the film, but the film’s final lines of dialogue are the source of some confusion for English-speaking audiences. The original French plays with ambiguity; it is unclear whether Michel is condemning Patricia or condemning the world in general, and it is unclear whether Patricia is questioning his scorn, questioning the meaning of a French word as elsewhere in the film, or unable to understand the concept of shame