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Alain Tanner's second feature is co-written by the English Marxist art critic, John Berger, and has earned much critical attention overseas for its treatment of the alienation of a young girl trapped within the mores of middle-class Switzerland. The salamander of the title equates the heroine with the legendary animal reputed to be able to live in fire.

Rosemonde is a normal enough girl, who lives between her bed and her job at a sausage factory. She has been dismissed of a charge of shooting her uncle with his army rifle, but the intrusion into her life of two men who work in television, reopens the affair. Pierre is a news journalist who has been assigned the task of writing a script about the shooting and the events surrounding it, and Paul is a novelist upon whom Pierre calls for assistance. Both attempt to reconstruct the situation in their own ways, and both find themselves attracted to Rosemonde. Yet both are also unable to make any satisfying contact with her, and their professional assignment is a failure.

Tanner's film is an account of the way the three people confront the environment in which they live.