In the aftermath of the WWII, in a war ravaged Poland, a trio consisting of a music composer/director/pianist Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), dance choreographer Irena (Agata Kulesza) and manager Kaczmarek (Borys Szyc) search the Polish countryside to record folk songs and dances. They meet several rural Polish people and record their traditional folk songs. Kaczmarek is skeptical about the outcome of the exercise as he feels that the songs sung in the rural dialects/languages will not sell with the rest of the nation. After they record the folk songs, they conduct auditions for singers and dancers to create a folk dance group at an abandoned palatial building. During these auditions, Wiktor meets Zula (Joanna Kulig) who impresses him with her talent for singing. After the auditions, the singers/dancers selected start rehearsing for a folk dance musical. During the rehearsals, Wiktor gets to know Zula better and comes to know that she has done some jail time for attacking her father when her father tried to sexually molest her.
Warsaw, Poland 1951: After two years of rehearsals, the dance group gives a performance at Warsaw which is very well received. Post the performance, Wiktor and Zula meet and have sex in a restroom. A few days later, Wiktor, Irena and Kaczmarek meet an important government official who asks them to create a play praising the communist government in Poland, its leaders and land reform policies. Irena protests, but Kaczmarek intervenes and says that they can do it. The dance group later performs this play but both Irena and Wiktor are unhappy with the government interference. Wiktor now decides to leave Poland for France. Before leaving, in one of their meetings, Zula tells Wiktor that she is reporting on Wiktor's activities to Kaczmarek as the government feels that Wiktor might be prone to subversive activities. She also tells him that she had to do this because she was under probation/parole and that she is telling him this because she loves him. Wiktor then decides to take Zula with him. He asks Zula to meet him near a border check post in East Berlin after one of their performances in there (This is before the Berlin wall was built). However Zula decides not to go at the last minute and even after waiting well past the appointed time when Zula does not arrive, Wiktor crosses over the border to West Berlin.
Paris, France 1954: Wiktor has started working in a jazz bar called L'Eclipse when he gets a letter from Zula that she is in Paris and wants to meet. They meet in a bar/cafe at night. While Wiktor walks Zula back to her hotel, he asks her why she did not accompany him to France. She replies that she felt she would not be good enough as an artist in France especially since she did not know the language and the people. They part with a passionate kiss.
Yugoslavia 1955: Wiktor comes to Yugoslavia to meet Zula where her dance troupe is giving a performance. He meets Kaczmarek while waiting in line to get in the performance hall. Kaczmarek informs Wiktor about the developments in the dance troupe. During the performance, Zula sees Wiktor but is unable to meet him as Kaczmarek has informed the police about Wiktor who then picked up from the performance hall is deported back to France.
Paris, France 1957: Back in Paris, Wiktor is now working as a composer producing soundtracks for movies. Zula comes to meet him at the studio. She tells him that she has left Poland legally by marrying an Italian but really wants to be with him. They have sex at Wiktor's place. Wiktor finds work for Zula as a singer at L'Eclipse where she sings songs in French. However, she feels jealous of Wiktor's former mistress Juliette(Jeanne Balibar) who is a poet and who writes songs for Zula to sing. During a party, Wiktor introduces Zula to Michel (Cédric Kahn) a music industry executive, to help Zula record an album to launch her career as a singer. Later she meets Juliette who denigrates Zula's lifestyle by saying that she must be feeling out of place by seeing the cafes, bars, cinemas, restaurants. She is also angry at Wiktor for telling Michel about her jail sentence in Poland and that she was a spy. She feels down and drinks too much and is brought back to the apartment by Wiktor in a drunken stupor. She records her album but she does not like it. She informs Wiktor that she has been sleeping with Michel behind his back. Wiktor slaps Zula in anger and she leaves Paris for Poland. He goes to the Polish embassy to get a visa to go get back Zula. However, he is discouraged by the consulate officer to return to Poland unless he spies for them. Wiktor refuses and tries to cross illegally into Poland.
Poland 1959: Wiktor was captured while crossing into Poland and is now sentenced to 15 years in prison. His hands are now broken due to the physical abuse and hard labor in the prison because of which he now cannot play the piano. Zula comes to visit him and tells him that she will get him released by any means necessary.
Undisclosed location (probably Poland), 1964: Wiktor has now been released from prison. Zula works as a singer and also has a child with Kaczmarek. It is revealed that Wiktor has been released after the intervention of a deputy minister who is an admirer of Zula. After a performance, she asks him to get her out for good. They travel to the countryside where they get married in a bombed out and abandoned church. At the end it is implied that the couple commit suicide by consuming tablets though this is left to the viewer's imagination.