Diana Di Sorella, an ambitious photographer in her early 30s, is forced to come home to the world of her Italian-American family and past when her mother dies. An only child, Diana has no choice but to return to her old Italian-American community to prepare her family's house to be sold. As she packs up the house and explores the changing neighborhood, Diana reluctantly finds herself face-to-face with her own history of contradictory family, ethnic and social identities.

While looking for legal papers in the attic, Diana discovers her mother Silvia's hidden Libro della casa -- a 'house book' she'd kept over the years. Filled with recipes, journal entries and mementos neatly filed, it ends with a long, handwritten story. Diana can't read it, as it's in Italian -- a language she no longer remembers

A visitor arrives. Pina De Nora, a striking woman In her 60s, and her mother's longtime friend and neighbor, stands at the doorway with a canary. When Pina offers the caged canary, "Puccini," to Diana "to keep her company," it triggers the beginning of emotional flows that bring Diana back to imaged memories. These first of several dreamlike moments of Diana's childhood, community history and family history add to and reflect upon a puzzle she is about to reconstruct.

Pina De Nora returns repeatedly to visit Diana. bringing her food and small gifts. An intriguing relationship between the two women begins and Diana finally asks Pina to help her translate and understand the Italian story her mother wrote. Hesitantly the older woman agrees.

The mother's handwritten-story, which Pina translates in small episodic vignettes, is presented throughout the film as a beautifully staged puppet drama, created in the traditional Italian style. This darkly operatic tale unfolds as the story of a young woman in Italy who is driven to poison her abusive husband, and through the help of a loving schoolteacher, manages to escape with her small child to America.

With Pina as her guide, Diana investigates and uncovers the secretive and complex world of her immigrant grandmother and mother. In the minute details of seemingly ordinary lives, Diana discovers the breadth and strength of independence, love and forgiveness. Pina De Nora helps Diana finally to say good-bye to her family and make peace with her personal history. And in return, Diana is able to help Pina De Nora realize her own final wishes.

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