Almost a follow-up to director Claude Sautet's Un Coeur en Hiver (1992), Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud further explores repressed emotions and failed relationships.
Nelly (Emmanuelle Béart), an attractive young woman, is six months behind in her rent and struggling with odd jobs, while her husband (Charles Berling) lies in bed reading newspapers and watching TV. Her friend Jacqueline introduces her to Pierre Arnaud (Michel Serrault), a retired judge and wealthy ex-businessman, who offers to settle Nelly's debt.
She agrees and is later so disappointed by her husband's indifferent reaction that she leaves him. Arnaud asks her to be his secretary because he needs help in typing his memoirs.
Though obviously attracted to her, he rarely expresses his emotions, and he suddenly erupts only when he finds out about Nelly's affair with his young publisher Vincent (Jean-Hugues Anglade). The film won Césars from the French Academy of Cinema for Best Director and Best Actor, although it lost Best Film to Mathieu Kassovitz's more innovative La haine.