Unfathomable public events can leave us "speaking the wrong lines." When their mother dies, the three Giuranna brothers are called home. Raffaele (Philippe Noiret) is a successful judge in Rome whose thoughts are wrapped up in a case involving the terrorist assassination of one of his colleagues. Rocco (Vittorio Mezzogiorno) works for a delinquent boys' home in Naples, and Nicola (Michele Placido) is a militant Turin factor worker whose marraige has just broken up.

Gathered at the farm, they try to comfort their father (Charles Vanel), communicate with each other, remember the past, and think about the future. Director Francesco Rosi (The Mattai Affair, Eboli) makes the most of their daydreams, and the societal violence which links their three careers together. The urban characters are captives to the political uneasiness of the times while their rural father can rest in reveries of past experiences with his beloved wife. Three Brothers is the Italian nomination of the Academy Award as the best foreign language film of 1981.