Rome, 1934. Still in their youth, a group of brilliant university students – Franco, Ettore, Emilio, Edoardo and Bruno – meet with Professor Enrico, Italian scholar, at the Institute of Physics in the famous Via Panisperna. Amid pranks – such as the radio spoof mocking Guglielmo Marconi, considered the symbol of the “old” official Physics – and accomplishments attained with great obstinacy, the group manages to carry out revolutionary experiments on the atom. Enrico and Ettore emerge as protagonists over the others because of their reciprocal admiration and diffidence. The two in fact disagree on scientific methods. Enrico is the more experimental scientist while Ettore is led by his own incredible intuition and genius. They also differ in terms of personality and character. Enrico is more pragmatic and confident while Ettore is more introverted and restless and, perhaps, doubtful of the consequences of their discoveries. Slowly, the group falls apart. Enrico receives the Nobel Prize but is forced to seek refuge in the United States with his wife of Jewish origin. Ettore, who teaches in Naples, is increasingly tired and confused and seeks solace at his villa in Sicily. He soon disappears mysteriously during a voyage at sea.
Passion and ethic, intuition and reason, excesses and moderation, collaboration and rivalry, success and scepticism: Amelio excludes all anecdotes and focuses instead on ideas and characters. His film, then, is not a true re-inaction of the group’s work and experiences; rather, it is a work of fiction, richer and more complex that one might expect.