Ivan Bibic (played by John Savage), a soldier, returns home from the War, where he was a imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp; it has left him physically and mentally blemished for life. The veteran had always hoped for a calm and loving life with his childhood sweetheart and fiancée Maria Bosic (Natassja Kinski), instead, his war experiences, coupled with post-traumatic stress – area dark clouds that hover above his horizon. “You dreamed about her too long. She lives in your dreams, not your body.”
His father (Robert Mitchum) wants him to labor on, regardless, believing that his peasant lifestyle and hard work will one day help him forget his travails in War. One day, when Ivan goes to meet Maria, who is living with her deaf grandmother, he is pained to see her in the arms of Al Griselli (Vincent Spano), a captain in the army. Mitchum advises Ian to forget about Maria, she’s ‘out of his league’, and tries to set him up with the eager Mrs.Wynic. Although rendered ‘psychologically impotent’ by the War, he is able to consummate his relationship with Mrs. Wynic, an act that remains unaccomplished with his lady love-Maria.
Al is fond of Maria, but has a roving eye, which Ian chooses to make use of to his advantage. Whilst the Captain is romancing a friend of Maria’s, Ian takes the opportunity to woo Maria - this angers Al, who shuns her. At long last, Ian marries the woman of his dreams.
Maria, her head full of a young bride’s dreams, seeks love and children - but Ian, overwhelmed with having met his dream, now tarnishes reality with the fear that he isn’t good enough for her - thus unable to consummate his marriage. This leaves Maria frustrated, and she is soon embroiled in an extra marital affair with the charming and slick Clarence Butts (Keith Carradine); though despite his love for her, Ian is on the lookout for another relationship as well.
And just like that, Ian leaves for another city, leaving Maria to fend for herself. She has a rendezvous with Clarence, who leaves her pregnant, and she rejects her lover. When Maria tells Ian of her state, he is cold and unresponsive. She is all alone now, even her grandmother is dead. On one of his drunken sprees, Clarence boasts of his prowess and tells of how he seduced Maria, who later left him. Unbeknownst to him, Ian is privy to this information, and at once lashes out at Clarence, who hasn’t recognized him.
Ian’s father is dying and persuades him to come back to Maria - realizing he can’t stop loving her no matter what- the two reunite. Once the two see each other’s foibles, they accept the human side of each other as well - and finally, in a beautiful scene, they consummate their emotional and physical love.
Maria’s Lovers is Andrei Konchalovsky’s maiden foray into Hollywood; he plays it safe by further exploring the clichéd sub genre of the return of the war veteran. However, what is new about the perspective Andrei offers is that there is a separation of the sexual aspect of love, from the emotion-love. Perhaps, its Maria’s quiet plea which highlights the mainstay of the film – ‘You should love me less.’