"A woman born for love. A man born to love her. A timeless moment in a world gone mad."
Giovanna (Sophia Loren) and Antonio (Marcello Mastroianni) get married to delay Antonio's deployment during World War II. After that buys them twelve days of happiness, they try another scheme, in which Antonio pretends to be a crazy man. Finally, Antonio is sent to the Russian Front. When the war is over, Antonio does not return and is listed as missing in action. Despite the odds, Giovanna is convinced her true love has survived the war and is still in the Soviet Union. Determined, she journeys to the Soviet Union to find him.
In the Soviet Union, Giovanna visits the sunflower fields, where there is supposedly one flower for each fallen Italian soldier, and where the Germans forced the Italians to dig their own mass graves. Eventually, Giovanna finds Antonio, but by now he has started a second family with a woman who saved his life, and they have one daughter. Childless, having been faithful to her husband, Giovanna returns to Italy, heartbroken, but unwilling to disrupt her love's new life. Some years later, Antonio returns to Giovanna, asking her to come back with him to the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, Giovanna has tried to move on with her own life, moving out of their first home together and into her own apartment. She works in a factory and is living with a man, with whom she has a baby boy. Antonio visits her and tries to explain his new life, how war changes a man, how safe he felt with his new woman after years of death. Unwilling to ruin Antonio's daughter's or her own new son's life, Giovanna refuses to leave Italy, expressing an intense emotional maturity in her choice. As they part, Antonio gives her a fur, which he had promised years before that he'd bring back for her. The lovers lock eyes as Antonio's train takes him away from Giovanna, and from Italy, forever.
Sophia Loren – Giovanna
Marcello Mastroianni – Antonio
Lyudmila Savelyeva – Masha (Maria)
Galina Andreyeva – Valentina, Soviet official
Anna Carena – Antonio's Mother
Germano Longo – Ettore
Nadya Serednichenko – Woman in sunflower fields
Glauco Onorato – Returning soldier
Silvano Tranquilli – Italian worker in Russia
Marisa Traversi – Prostitute
Gunars Cilinskis – Russian Ministry Official
Carlo Ponti, Jr. – Giovanna's Baby
Pippo Starnazza – Italian official
David di Donatello: Best Actress (Sophia Loren)
Academy Award nomination for Best Music, Original Score