The story follows two musicians, who, as a result of civil war, have moved away from society to a farm on a rural island. They are apolitical and indifferent to the war. As the film opens, Jan has had a dream: "I dreamed we were back in the orchestra, sitting side by side, rehearsing the 4th Brandenburg Concerto, the slow movement, and that everything we have now we had behind us. We only remembered it like a nightmare. I woke up crying. I started to cry when we were playing." Although they are in love, Jan (Sydow) is very sensitive and cries frequently, irritating his wife, Eva (Ullmann). When their farmhouse is the site of a siege wherein Jan and Eva treat the injuries of both sides' men, the two are rounded up by the invading force, interrogated and only spared when Eva provides sexual favors to the commanding officer, Colonel Jacobi. An investigation into Jacobi's corruption intensifies the frustrations and tensions between Jan and Eva, who sink further into depression as they attempt to flee.
As the film closes, Eva has had a dream: she walks a beautiful city street, until planes come and set fire to the city and its rose bushes. Jan and Eva walk their daughter to watch the rose petals burn in the water, "And I knew there was something I should remember. Something one of us had said, but which I had forgotten. I started to cry as I remembered."