In the late 1930s, in Ferrara, Italy, the Finzi-Contini are one of the leading families, wealthy, aristocratic, urbane; they are also Jewish. Their adult children, Micol and Alberto, gather a circle of friends for constant rounds of tennis and parties at their villa with its lovely grounds, keeping the rest of the world at bay. Into the circle steps Giorgio, a Jew from the middle class who falls in love with Micol. She seems to toy with him, and even makes love to one of his friends while she knows Giorgio is watching. While his love cannot seem to break through to her to draw her out of her garden idyll, the forces of politics close in.