Grazia, played by Golino, is a free-spirited mother of three married to shy fisherman Pietro (Vincenzo Amato) and living on the idyllic but isolated island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean Sea. She shows signs of manic depressive behavior — one moment she's laughing wildly and swimming half-naked in the ocean, while the next she's curled in a ball on her bed. Out of her earshot, the adult members of her extended family vaguely discuss sending her to a facility of some sort in Northern Italy.
Grazia is closely shepherded by her oldest son Pasquale, played by Casisa, who appears to be about twelve years old and often assumes more of a parental role with his mother. After Pietro puts down one of Grazia's dogs because he thinks it might be dangerous, impulsive Grazia sets all the stray dogs free in the town's makeshift kennel. After the dogs swarm over the island, the locals demand that Pietro do something about his wife. But when he tells her he plans to send her away to Northern Italy, she runs away and hides in a cave on the shore, where she's secretly tended by young Pasquale, who brings her clean clothes and food every day.
Pietro and some friends doggedly search the island for Grazia, so Pasquale leaves one of her dresses by the edge of the sea as a ruse. Pietro finds the dress — the one she was wearing the day she disappeared — and nearly everyone presumes she has drowned. Pietro, however, continues to search for her, and just before an important local religious festival, he sees her swimming naked in the water. He dives in to assist her, thinking a miracle has occurred, and many of the villagers follow suit, thus providing a sheltering circle around her as she is brought safely to shore.
Critic Desson Thomson of The Washington Post, however, felt "its long-winded denouement, in which Grazia runs away rather than be sent to an institution, doesn't bring the story full circle. It just extends it."