The opening scene conveys the tale’s sexual complications. Claudia, a teacher, is in the midst of a game of hide-and-seek with her students. Taking off the scarf, she notices a young couple in the act of intercourse, reacting with both curiosity and disgust.

The two lead characters, Anna and Nicky, are given to past memories. Through dream-like sequences, we learn that Anna was raised by her man-hating mother after her father had run away with a younger woman. As a result of the mistreatment, Anna has turned into a spiteful and cold woman.

Nicky’s reveries are more tender, recalling the time he and a friend as boys were taken away from their masturbatory fantasies to the real view of a washer woman bathing nude in a pond. And the happy time of Marta’s birthday when her father put on a theatrical skit in celebration of her youth and beauty.

Marta is called “Aunt” by Anna and Nicky who even as adults look up to her for the self-assurance they lack. One evening five of them go out to dinner.

After Marta is recognized and asked to sing, she and Nicky dance the tango. Claudia is so emotionally caught up in the festivities that she remarks: “If only it could be like this forever!”

Spoiler Alert:

The spell of enchantment is shattered the next day when Marta suffers a heart attack and dies.

Anna and Nicky are shocked into reevaluating their lives. She goes into isolation and desolation, while he retreats into the past once again. But then, almost miraculously, they both take positive steps toward a more independent future. Anna and Claudia leave for Milan and a new life.

Nicky decides to stay on, while saying goodbye to Picchio, indicates desire to give up the quest for eternal youth.

The movie is luxuriously photographed by Romano Albani.

Erland Josephson, so memorable in Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage, is excellent Nicky, the middle-aged dreamer. Mariangela Melato, who triumphed in Lina Werthmuller’s Swept Away, is suitably morose and coiled as Anna. Eleonora Giorgi brings innocence and charm to the role of Claudia.

Franco Brusati, who had previously helmed the 1978 Bread and Chocolate, which won the Best Foreign Language Film from the New York Film Critics Circle, handles the tender material here with equal intelligence and sensitivity.