Openly gay Molina (William Hurt) is imprisoned on a morals charge, sharing a dreary prison cell with clandestinely-held revolutionary Valentin (Raul Julia) who has been endlessly tortured by prison authorities in an attempt to extract information on his subversive activities. Molina is a glib raconteur who dwells in a fantasy world of glamorous movies from yesteryear. Intensely withdrawn Valentin is a self-disciplined intellectual devoted to his left-wing political cause.
In the late-night darkness of their cell, Molina spins a fantastic yarn of celluloid romance: a Nazi propaganda film involving the unlikely love affair between a ravishing French chanteuse caught up in the Resistance and the handsome Chief of German Counter-Intelligence for Occupied France. Molina continues to weave the intricate web of his story, ever embroidering the details to draw out and manipulate Valentin's emotions. At first, Valentin is repelled yet hypnotised by Molina and his tale.
Their relationship is a constant sparring match between two radically different but equally desperate human beings to maintain their identities. But gradually, a remarkably touching bond of friendship, fraternal love and self-sacrifice is formed.