Serge, a well-to-do dermatologist, has purchased a modern minimalist painting for 200,000 francs, a sum his friend, Marc, finds ludicrous, especially since to Marc the painting is nothing more than a white background with a few parallel white lines drawn through it.
In Serge’s apartment the two friends examine the painting, and Serge tries to convince Marc that it is worth the price he paid and more. Marc is not convinced continually refers to the painting as “this shit.”
Serge says Marc is intelligent enough, an aeronautical engineer, in fact. Nonetheless, Serge calls him a “nostalgia merchant” who takes pride in running down modernism. They continue to argue the merits of the painting, and Marc determines to visit a third friend, Yvan, to tell him about the new painting and their deluded friend.
Marc, who is hurt by his friend’s strong seemingly elitist views, visits Yvan at his apartment and describes the painting for him. Yvan is ambivalent, stating that, if the painting pleases Serge, no harm is done. Obviously hoping for Yvan to agree with him, Marc is incensed that Serge fancies himself some sort of art critic.
Next, Yvan goes to Serge’s apartment to see the painting for himself. The agreeable Yvan declares that he likes the painting very much and that the price 200,000 francs, is reasonable. The conversation comes back to Marc and how hurt Serge is over Marc’s reaction to the painting.
Yvan, the great conciliator, now goes back to Marc’s apartment where he relates his experience with Serge and says that he really didn’t find the painting all that objectionable. Marc asks if Yvan (who is soon to be married) would be happy with the painting as a wedding gift and rather forcefully demands an answer. Yvan, who now finds himself caught in the middle of his two friends, equivocates and agrees that he probably wouldn’t be happy, but, then, he isn’t really sure what happiness is anyway.
Soon all three of the friends find themselves in Serge’s apartment, where the verbal sparring continues. Marc and Serge eventually turn their frustrations on Yvan for being so agreeable and never having an opinion of his own.
Serge and Marc argue heatedly, with Yvan attempting to be the peacemaker. Finally, genuine feelings are emerging as Marc reveals that he feels Serge has replaced him and their friendship with the painting, rejecting his standards for something new. As usual, Yvan’s efforts only cause the blame for everything that’s wrong between his friends to be laid on him.
The arguments and the opinions flow until late in the evening, when, finally, Serge forces (in a surprising and deeply meaningful ending) a resolution of sorts—not only about the meaning and value of art, but of friendship.