The movie starts on a day of any year at the dawn of the third millennium.
'Ntoni Malavoglia witnesses a landing on the shores of illegal immigrants. Alef is on the boat and, taking advantage of the confusion, he manages to escape. „Ntoni helps him, finds him a job in greenhouses and a house in the alley where he lives with his family.
The Malavoglia are fishermen. They own a boat named “Providence” and a house that everybody calls “The medlar‟s house”. The family is made up of the grandfather Padron „Ntoni, Bastianazzo, his wife Maruzza and their children „Ntoni, Mena, Alessi and Lia. „Ntoni is 20 and the others are all younger than him. They are poor kids, like many in Sicily who barely completed compulsory schooling.
One night the “Providence” is wrecked and Bastianazzo dies. The family starts to fall apart: Maruzza goes crazy, „Ntoni hangs out at Uzzy‟s bar and together they write zany songs, Mena falls in love with Alfio and Lia secretly dates Michele, who seems to be a bad lot. Padron ‟Ntoni tries to keep his family together but the ship is wrecked again and debts eat up the “medlar‟s house”.
Eventually „Ntoni improves the family‟s fortunes by writing a song with his grandfather‟s sayings. With this song he wins a big prize and with the money buys back the “Medlar‟s house”, has the “Providence” repaired and goes back to his old job as fisherman together with his brother Alessi and Alfio who, in the meantime, has married Mena.