Gwynplaine, son of Lord Clancharlie, has a permanent smile carved on his face by the King, in revenge for Gwynplaine’s father’s treachery. Gwynplaine is adopted by a travelling showman and becomes a popular idol. He falls in love with the blind Dea. The king dies, and his evil jester tries to destroy or corrupt Gwynplaine.
Not far outside Paris, at the beginning of the Roaring 20s, Marguerite lives in a sumptuous mansion, spending much of her time singing famous opera arias dressed in elaborate theatrical costumes. Marguerite sings whole-heartedly, bearing her soul, but is also terribly, and comically, out of tune. When a young, provocative journalist writes a rave review of her latest private recital, Marguerite’s delusion that she’s a talented diva continues to grow. She finds her intricate fantasy of artistic accomplishment enabled by Madelbos (Denis Mpunga), a butler with his own aesthetic strivings, as well as her audience who encourage her to perform purely for their own amusement.
Lola, a striking teenaged girl who is on the cusp of adulthood, who longs to rush into the adult world of independence, freedom and sexual exploits, but is tenaciously held back by her mother.