There are dreamers and schemers in poet-screenwriter Jacques Prévert's epic of love, politics and art in 1820s Paris, all revolving around the ethereal Garance (Arletty), whose beauty brings out the beast in men. None more than Lacenaire, her official beau, who cares less for her love than for the hatred he can create as he manipulates the men competing for Garance's attention. Lacenaire was a real-life criminal whom the 19th century literati admired for his dandyism, the refinement of his malice. In the film, he exemplifies the power of evil over others, and over itself. When he sets two good men fighting over Garance, he exults: "The thought of them killing each other over a woman, because of me, comforts me." He gets his kick from their pain.