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Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni) is a wealthy and successful lawyer in Rome who equates life's luxuries with personal happiness. He travels by train to the coast to visit his son, Michele (Massimo Troisi), whom he has rarely seen since splitting with his mother. A scholar and a soldier, Michele values friends and experiences more than things. The father and son's very different lives cause friction during the day-long visit, as long-held grudges and misunderstandings stunt their communication.