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In the expatriate-littered Paris of the 1920s, painter Nick Hart (Keith Carradine) mingles with Ernest Hemingway (Kevin O'Connor) and other leading lights of the Lost Generation while palling around with gossip columnist Oiseau (Wallace Shawn), whose reportage has helped establish the international reputation of the writers and artists who fled America for France after WWI. Older and less successful than many of his fellow painters, Hart relies on gallery owner Libby Valentin (Genevieve Bujold) to sell what she can of his work while he supports himself drawing cartoons for Oiseau's weekly column.
In a café one day, Hart spies Rachel Stone (Linda Fiorentino) on the arm of her husband, Bertram (John Lone), a condom magnate and art patron who's trying to buy his way into society. It seems Hart and Rachel share a romantic past of which Stone is completely unaware.
At the salon of writers Gertrude Stein (Elsa Raven) and Alice B. Tolkas (Ali Giron), Hart suffers a nasty run-in with the Stones and meets Nathalie de Ville (Geraldine Chaplin), a rich socialite who wants to steal three paintings from her estranged husband.
Nathalie plies Hart with sexual favors and the promise of cash in exchange for his help in forging copies of the paintings. Although he's loath to follow in the footsteps of his father, a gifted forger, Hart acquiesces, and soon his rivalry with Stone and his involvement with the forgeries leads to death, destruction, and scandal in the art world.
Bujold, Shawn, Chaplin, and Carradine are all regular collaborators of iconoclastic director Alan Rudolph, who filmed The Moderns in Montréal and would go on to lens the similarly intellectual Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.