Peppino, the nickname of the boy at the story's heart, is a tough little kid in the thirties, used to the rough-and-tumble world of Baaria (local slang for Tornatore's native Bagheria), a hot and dusty Sicilian village with one main street. His adventures are many and his memories singular: men gambling in the local square, goats eating his schoolbooks, and the enchantment of silent film screenings. All of this plays out against the darker canvas of black-shirted fascists strutting in the streets, the declaration of war and the ecstatic moment of liberation when the Allies land on the island.
Slowly, a man and an individual is formed. In the chaotic tumult of post-war Baaria, Peppino (now played by Francesco Scianna) joins the Communist Party. Coming from a poor family and witnessing the humiliations meted out by the local landowners, he feels that socialism is the road to justice and a fairer world. When he falls head over heels for the raven-haired Mannina (Margareth MadŔ), however, her parents hold his party membership against him. As Peppino ages, success rubs up against failure, and pain mingles with happiness. In Baaria, life can be simple or complicated, full of humour or sadness, but it is never uninteresting; it simply flows.