Jean Cocteau directed this adaptation of his play that sets the myth of the mystical Greek poet in post-war France.
Famous poet Orpheus (Jean Marais) talks with his editor (Henri Crémieux) at the Poet’s Café, and they watch a brawl break out. Death (Maria Casares) takes Orpheus in a Rolls Royce as a witness with the poet Jacques Cégeste (Edouard Dermithe), who has a bleeding lip. Two men on motorcycles join them and carry Jacques into a house. Death says that Orpheus is asleep, and she plays the radio. She brings Jacques back to life and says that she is Death and that he must serve her.
Orpheus wakes up in the country and finds the car. Eurydice (Marie Déa) is worried about her missing husband Orpheus, and the police commissaire (Pierre Bertin) asks where he is. Eurydice and Aglaonice (Juliette Gréco) say he is asleep. Then Orpheus comes home and sees a reporter. The chauffeur Heurtebise (François Périer) tells Eurydice that Orpheus slept all night in the car. She says that Heurtebise can stay over the garage. Heurtebise says he committed suicide with gas.
In the car Orpheus listens to the radio, hoping to hear beautiful phrases. He quarrels with Eurydice. Heurtebise answers the phone and tells Orpheus that the commissaire wants to see him. Orpheus drives his own car with Heurtebise. In a deserted city he sees Death walking and tries to follow her, asking people if they saw her. Poets tells the commissaire to suspect Orpheus.
Eurydice tells Heurtebise that she is going to see Aglaonice, and she has an accident on a bicycle. Heurtebise carries her into Death’s house. Death gives orders to Jacques. He transmits phrases on radio, and Orpheus hears them in the car. Heurtebise tells Orpheus that Eurydice is dying. Death tells Eurydice to get up and that she must serve her. Heurtebise tells Orpheus that Eurydice is dead. Orpheus asks how. Heurtebise says that Orpheus knows death and that mirrors are her doors. Orpheus wants to find Eurydice and Death. Heurtebise gives him gloves to pass through mirrors. Orpheus puts them on and does so.
Orpheus follows Heurtebise in a dream world. Men question Jacques and then Death. Orpheus and Heurtebise come in. Death says the men are judges. She admits she took his wife and signs a paper. Judges question Eurydice, and Heurtebise confesses that he loves her. Orpheus and Death kiss. The judges release Eurydice, but Orpheus must never look at her. Heurtebise goes along to help keep Orpheus from seeing Eurydice.
Orpheus feels frustrated. Eurydice wakes him to end it, but the lights go out. In the car Orpheus sees Eurydice in the mirror, and she is gone. Heurtebise gives Orpheus a revolver to scare away young people demanding Jacques. They demand the gun, and Orpheus is shot. Police arrest them. Heurtebise takes Orpheus back to Death. Orpheus embraces her and says he will obey. Death makes Heurtebise cause Orpheus to back up. Death tells Orpheus to work.
In his room Orpheus takes off the gloves. Eurydice wakes and talks with Orpheus about his work. Jacques tells Death that it is done. In the final scene Death and Heurtebise depart with the two motorcyclists.
This fantasy reflects the modern era by using his guide’s love affair to account for Orpheus’ inability to see his wife. The parable conveys the idea that poetic inspiration comes from souls who have passed from life. A suicide victim is required to perform tasks on earth.