Julien (Gabin) and Clémence Bouin (Signoret) are an old married couple. They live in the suburbs of Paris. They cannot get along any more, but they do not want to separate either. Julien adopts a stray cat and takes care of it. Clémence gets jealous of the cat.
Le Chat provides examples of:
- Anachronic Order: The film starts with the ambulance going to the house (which is the end of the story), then we see Julien and Clémence doing the shopping, eating separately and communicating by notes (which is quite late in the story, because it is after the death of the cat). The rest of the film is approximately in the chronological order, but there are several Flashbacks about Julien and Clémence's past relationship.
- Awful Wedded Life: Exaggerated. Julien and Clémence do not talk to each other any more, they do not eat together any more, but they do not want to separate.
- Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Played for Drama. The viewer realizes that Clémence still loves Julien because she keeps all the notes that he writes to her (because he refuses to talk to her). The viewer also understands that Julien loves Clémence, because when she dies, he is desperate and kills himself.
- Career-Ending Injury: Clémence was a circus performer, but she fell from a trapeze and had to stop her career.
- Driven to Suicide: When Julien realizes that Clémence died, he swallows pills to kill himself.
- The Film of the Book: The film is adapted from a 1967 novel of the same name by Georges Simenon.
- Foregone Conclusion: Because of the Anachronic Order, the viewer knows from start that the cat disappears and Julien holds Clémence responsible for that, but he does not know the exact circumstances.
- Hollywood Heart Attack: Clémence has one in the end: she staggers, drops to the floor and dies within seconds.
- I Was Quite a Looker: Clémence is an older unattractive woman, but she was attractive when she was a young circus performer.
- Lady Drunk: Clémence is an older woman who is an alcoholic. In her day, she was attractive, but now alcohol and age have degraded her appearance.
- Mistaken for Cheating: Clémence thinks that Julien cheats on her because he often visits a hotel used by prostitutes, but actually the owner of the hotel is Julien's friend and he goes there just to chat with her.
- Rule of Symbolism: The destruction of the neighbourhood where Julien and Clémence live (and ultimately the destruction of their house) is a symbol of the end of their love and the end of their life.
- Woman Scorned: Julien ill-treats his wife Clémence. So Clémence shoots down the innocent cat that Julien adopted.