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In 1885, Celestine, a chambermaid, is so tired of her station in life that when she arrives at her new post, the rural French home of the Lanlaires, she vows to use the next available man to achieve wealth. The following morning, Joseph, the sadistic valet, shows Celestine the vault in which the family keeps their silver, which is used only on independence day, 14 July, when they drink to the death of the Republic. Later, Celestine flirts with Monsieur Lanlaire, who is dominated by his disagreeable wife. When Lanlaire offers Celestine money to buy a present, she asks instead for a piece of the silver. Their conversation is interrupted by the Lanlaires' next-door neighbor, Captain Mauger, who throws a rock through Lanlaire's greenhouse. Mauger, a hyperactive man who eats flowers and lives alone with his servant Rose, now presses Celestine to come and live with him. As an inducement, he offers to marry her and make her a present of the 25,000 francs he has hidden in the house. When the Lanlaires' tubercular son Georges comes home, Madame Lanlaire buys the attractive Celestine new dresses and instructs her to care for Georges, in hopes that her charms will keep him at home. Despite Celestine's allure, Georges announces his intention to leave for Paris. That night, Madame Lanlaire sends Celestine, dressed in her nightclothes, to Georges's room with some broth. At first, Georges is happy to see her, but later accuses Celestine of conspiring with his mother. Celestine realizes that Madame Lanlaire was using her for her own purposes and angrily quits her job. When she asks Joseph for a ride to the station, however, he begs her to stay and explains that he has saved almost enough money to buy a café in Cherbourg. Joseph intends to steal the Lanlaires' silver on independence day and offers to marry Celestine and set her up in the café with the profits. Reluctantly, Celestine agrees to stay until after the independence day celebration. Joseph's plans are thwarted, however, by Madame Lanlaire, who has overheard his conversation with Celestine. A desperate Joseph now plans to steal Mauger's fortune. While Mauger and Celestine are at the celebration in the village, Joseph searches the house, but Mauger returns unexpectedly and Joseph kills him. Celestine sees Joseph come out of Mauger's garden with a shovel and realizes what has occurred. Nonetheless, when Joseph announces that he intends to marry Celestine and leave, she does not denounce him. Georges is extremely upset by the announcement, and Madame Lanlaire begs Joseph to take Celestine away from her son, which he agrees to do in exchange for the silver. Joseph and Celestine leave the Lanlaires with a cart full of silver, but are stopped by the crowds celebrating in the village. Hoping to delay their departure, Celestine hands out the silver to the villagers. Georges arrives while she is doing this, and he and Joseph struggle. The townspeople join in the fight and Joseph is killed. Later, Celestine and Georges board the train together.