Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is a youthful criminal who is intrigued with 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 streets 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 one of the most iconic scenes in the film, but the film's final lines of dialogue are the source of some confusion for English-speaking audiences. In some translations, it is unclear whether Michel is condemning Patricia, or alternatively condemning the world in general.
As Patricia and Detective Vital catch up with the dying Michel, they have the following dialogue:
MICHEL: C'est vraiment dégueulasse. PATRICIA: Qu'est-ce qu'il a dit? VITAL: Il a dit que vous êtes vraiment "une dégueulasse". PATRICIA: Qu'est-ce que c'est "dégueulasse"?
In the English captioning of the 2001 Fox-Lorber Region One DVD, "dégueulasse" is translated as "scumbag", producing the following dialogue:
MICHEL: It's disgusting, really. PATRICIA: What did he say? VITAL: He said, "You're a real scumbag". PATRICIA: What's a scumbag?
The 2007 Criterion Collection Region One DVD uses a less literal translation:
MICHEL: Makes me want to puke. PATRICIA: What did he say? VITAL: He said you make him want to puke. PATRICIA: What's that mean, "puke"?
This translation also was used for the 2010 restoration print.