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David, an American, is standing at the window of his house in the south of France. He drinks and watches night fall.
He is going to leave the house in the morning, and he reveals that his fiancé, Hella, is now on a boat back to America. A man named Giovanni will be executed in the morning.
David begins to get drunk.
Note to reader: The following is flashback, which we render in the present tense.
David is in his teens, living in Brooklyn. During summer vacation, he ends up sleeping with a friend of his named Joey. In the morning, he wakes up and is ashamed. He leaves and stops speaking to Joey, who eventually moves away.
David's mother died when he was five. He grows up with his father and his aunt Ellen. Ellen is domineering and moralizing whereas his father just wants to be buddies with David.
One time, David's father comes home drunk. Ellen scolds him for setting a bad example and cavorting with women. From that point on, David begins to loathe both his father and Ellen.
Some time later, David is driving drunk. He gets into an accident, and when his father comes to see him in the hospital he becomes very emotional.
After that, David and his father grow even more distant. He leaves for Paris when he is seventeen, not knowing whether he is fleeing from himself or searching for himself.
His second year in Paris, David is short on money. He calls Jacques to ask for some. Jacques takes him out to dinner and then they go out to Guillaume's gay bar.
David remembers much later, after Giovanni has been convicted, he and Jacques run into each other. They both feel incredibly guilty about what happened to Giovanni.
That night, though, is the first time David meets Giovanni. Initially it is Jacques who wants to flirt with him, but Jacques gets distracted by Guillaume.
David and Giovanni begin flirting and buying each other drinks. They discuss differences between America and Europe, and Giovanni is very forward with David.
A flamboyantly gay man, the flaming princess, comes up and warns him that he and Giovanni will be very unhappy. David tells the man to go to hell.
When Jacques comes back, he kids David about his success with Giovanni. David is embarrassed as he is still pretending to be straight. He begins to get drunk.
David goes to a café near Les Halles with David, Giovanni, Jacques, and Guillaume. Giovanni takes his hand in the taxi, but David releases it.
At the café, Jacques gives David advice. He tells David he is lucky and that he should love Giovanni with all his heart.
David and Giovanni go into a back room and eat oysters. Giovanni tells the story of how he came to work for Guillaume. David longs for home back in America.
Seeing that Jacques and Guillaume are busy flirting with young boys, the two of them leave. David plans to go back to his hotel, but Giovanni encourages him to come home with him.
David goes back to Giovanni's apartment. He tells himself he is resisting, but actually feels relieved to sleep with Giovanni.
Back in the present, David is visited at his house in the south of France by his old Italian caretaker.
She is concerned for him. He reveals that Hella has left him and she takes pity on him. The old woman makes David feel naked and he wants to cry.
When she leaves, he thinks of how Giovanni will be executed under the same grey sky that they used to wander under in Paris.
David begins living in Giovanni's room. It feels like he is living underwater as time passes so smoothly.
The biggest tension between them comes when David and Giovanni discuss Hella. David tries to make it clear that he will leave Giovanni when Hella comes back, but Giovanni does not understand.
David knows he is lucky to have found so much happiness with Giovanni, but he is also ashamed of their relationship together and he hates Giovanni as much as he loves him.
David and Giovanni continue to live together. Giovanni begins to renovate his room and David thinks that he is trying to renovate his life.
One day, David gets two letters. One is from his father, who wants to know why he is staying in Paris and urges him to come home.
The other is from Hella. She has accepted David's proposal of marriage and announces that she will be returning to Paris shortly. David is relieved because he feels like he no longer has to make a decision.
He goes down to Montparnasse and sleeps with a girl named Sue. It is clear that Sue is very lonely and, when he leaves her, he feels that what they did together is more immoral than anything he ever did with Giovanni.
When David returns to Giovanni's room, Giovanni is in tears. Guillaume made a big scene and fired him. Giovanni says that if it weren't for David, this would be the end for him.
David feels like he is drowning.
In the present in the south of France, David admits that he has never loved anyone as much as he loved Giovanni. He hopes that Giovanni has someone to make love to in prison before he is executed.
David tells Giovanni that he would like to leave Paris. Giovanni says he will follow David anywhere.
David says sometime they will both have to go home. Giovanni says he no longer has a home in Italy, and predicts the same is true for David in America.
He asks if David is going to leave him and David denies it. They are both renovating the room and holding bricks.
Giovanni demands that David come hug him. David does, but he feels as if he is only dragging out Giovanni's murder.
When David gets a note telling him that Hella has arrived, he leaves without telling Giovanni.
The two of them spend several days together. Hella re-affirms her acceptance of David's proposal, and the two of them joke and banter about starting a family and about the role of women in society.
David writes to his father to tell him about Hella and to ask for money.
After three days, Hella and Giovanni meet by accident in a bookstore. Giovanni has been looking for David desperately. He makes a big scene in the store as he demands to know why David left without telling him.
David manages to steer Hella away without anything coming out in the open.
Later, he and Hella discuss Giovanni and how passionate he is. David lies and says Giovanni is upset because his mistress left him. He says he would like to leave Paris because he feels like Giovanni is suffocating him.
The next evening, David goes to Giovanni's room. The two of them have a big fight and Giovanni reveals that the reason he left Italy is because he had a stillborn child. He accuses David of never having loved anyone.
David feels cold and numb and cannot respond. He says he is leaving because he and Giovanni cannot make a life together, but Giovanni counters that he is living because they can.
After David leaves Giovanni, he asks after him. He finds out that Giovanni has fallen down the rungs of society, but that he might be able to get his job back with Guillaume. A week later, Guillaume is found dead.
David is tormented with guilt. Hella tries to sympathize with him, but she does not understand the depths of his torment. She thinks that he is shutting her out.
The two of them go to the south of France, where they continue to fight and bicker.
Eventually David leaves and goes to find a sailor, whom he sleeps with. Hella discovers them together and says she thinks that she has known for a long time.
As Hella packs to leave, David exclaims that he never meant to lie to her, that he was lying to himself. She has no sympathy for him and leaves.
Dawn comes up at David's house in the south of France. He looks at his naked body in the mirror and thinks that he will never understand it.
He has a letter telling him when Giovanni will be executed but he tears it up. He goes to catch a bus, but he does not know where he is going.