Paul (55) has recuperated from the alcohol and drug addiction that destroyed his New York art career, and has chosen a comfortable but uninspiring life in Vienna with his wife Maria (50), a renowned Austrian art restorer. Encouraged by her, Paul visits Joseph (50), a wealthy old friend and an unscrupulous New York art dealer, where he meets Eva, Joseph’s beautiful nineteen-year-old girlfriend. Even though he hasn’t sold a painting in years, Paul resists Joseph’s proposal to copy the style of his earlier work to make a comeback.
Eva, a psychologically troubled painter infatuated by Paul’s work, starts showing up at his studio to watch him paint. At Joseph’s request, and his wife’s encouragement, Paul mentors Eva as she prepares for her first big show. What starts out as an innocent attraction quickly escalates into a web of sexual intrigue. Caged by the controlling Joseph, and irritated by his domineering conduct, Eva finds ways to spend more time with Paul and develops an obsessive father fixation. She pushes Paul to question himself, his marriage of convenience, and his choice to live the life of a complacent painter. At the same time, Paul discovers in Eva an irresistible muse who thrusts him into a marvelous new phase of vibrant and disturbing paintings.
Although Paul is starting to come to terms with the fact that his marriage is not working, he is still resistant to the advances of Eva and tries to end the relationship. Eva refuses to accept his terms. She begins to make threatening phone calls, reveals her dark history of sexual abuse in an effort to gain his sympathy, and in a final act of desperation attempts to commit suicide, forcing Paul to rush her to the hospital.
Joseph discovers the affair and in a jealous rage assaults Paul in his studio. Bloody and beaten, Paul comes home to a suspicious wife. As Joseph tries to break Paul down in Eva’s mind, Maria tries to regain her peaceful life with Paul. But Eva’s obsession persists and keeps growing stronger. A now desperate Eva shows up at Paul and Maria’s door and tries to force herself inside, compelling them to flee to a secluded mountain resort where for the first time they openly discuss their marriage.