Although the birth of his son Mark is a great event in the life of jazz musician Paul (Gérard Blain), his selfish wife is more interested in material goods and social hierarchy than in parenthood. To satisfy her demand for nice things, Paul breaks the law and is sentenced to prison. His wife divorces him, and when he finally gets out and finds she is remarried to a wealthy man, all that he cares about is their son, who has no knowledge or memory of his father. He attempts to see the boy and is thrown out. He spies on Mark and, later manages to get hold of the boy in what looks like a kidnapping; the police separate them. Paul's despair is without bounds, and it's clear he won't give up trying to reach his son. Uncompromisingly austere and minimalist in style, this poignant study of obsession is strongly influenced by the work of Blain's idol, the great Robert Bresson. The bird of the title often appears in Christian art as a symbol of parental self-sacrifice-the pelican represented as piercing its own breast with its beak, spilling blood to feed its chicks.