In the spring of 1946, Ivan, an American soldier, returns home psychologically scarred after spending some time in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. Once back in his small Pennsylvania town, Ivan settles in, trying to put his life back together while living with his stoic peasant father.
Shortly after his arrival, Ivan looks for his childhood sweetheart, Maria, a beautiful woman who is taking care of her old deaf grandmother. However, he is disappointed to find Maria in the arms of Al, a captain. Ivan's father thinks that Maria is too good for his son, but perhaps good enough for himself. He pairs his son with Mrs Wynic, a flirty neighbor. Ivan has sex with her, but he is tormented by the traumas of the war. He tells her that it was his dreams about Maria that allowed him to survive the prison camp.
Ivan is given a hero's welcoming by his community, formed by immigrants from Yugoslavia. During the celebrations, when Al goes to dance with one of Maria's friends, Ivan grabs the opportunity to get close to her. Together they leave the party in his motorbike, heading for their favorite spot of years ago. He gives her a pair of earrings that he planted there for her, before leaving for the war. The next morning, Al is furious and breaks his relationship with Maria. Ivan's goal is fulfilled and he marries Maria in an orthodox ceremony, but his dream of a happiness shared with Maria is soon broken. Having adored Maria for so long from afar, now that they are together, Ivan is unable to consummate their marriage, disturbing their happiness.
Maria works as a nurse and would like to have children. Deeply in love with Ivan, she has to deal with her increasing sexual frustration. On the advice of Clarence, a drifter singer passing by the town, Ivan reaffirms his sense of manliness with Mrs Wynic, with whom he is not impotent. Maria discovers Ivan's infidelity, and a terrible argument ensues between them. Al invites the couple to his engagement party to Maria's girlfriend. In the middle of this gathering, Al breaks off his engagement, realizing that he is still in love with Maria. Al and Ivan have a confrontation. Ivan offers to let Al have Maria, but to demonstrate his own love for Maria, he puts his hand in a burning stove. Maria, very much in love with Ivan, tells Al that she does not love him.
Maria heals Ivan's hand, but the unhappiness between them increases further. She is pursued by Clarence who tries to seduce her, but she remains faithful to Ivan and resists Clarence's advances. One day, unexpectedly, Ivan leaves town by train. Moving to a new city, he starts work in a slaughter house, making new friends.
Left to her own devices, Maria finally succumbs to Clarence's advances. Though she quickly rejects him, she is pregnant. Maria searches out Ivan and tells him of her pregnancy and of the death of her grandmother, but Ivan is now cruelly indifferent towards her.
Out with his friends one night, Ivan meets up with Clarence. Clarence does not remember him and tells the story of how he seduced Maria, and that she later refused to have anything further to do with him. Furious, Ivan hits a still incredulous Clarence.
Ivan, still tormented by nightmares of his war experiences, is visited by his father, who tells Ivan that he is dying and that he must come back to Maria. Ivan returns home, admitting to Maria that he loves her baby. Now that Maria's chaste image has vanished, she and Ivan are able to make love for the first time.Nastassja Kinski - Maria
John Savage - Ivan
Robert Mitchum – Ivan’s father
Keith Carradine - Clarence
Anita Morris – Mrs. Wynic
Bud Cort - Harvey
Vincent Spano - Al Griselli
Karen Young - Rosie
John Goodman - Frank
The film was released on DVD in the United States in December 2001.