A small Nevada farmtown, 1933.
Adina is the owner of, and projectionist at a movie theater. FDR has only been in office a few months, and America is still deep in the throes of the Great Depression, eagerly anticipating the end of Prohibition. Times are tough for everybody, and Adina, all on her own, manages to keep the movie theater afloat by allowing a little bootlegging to go on in the discreet areas of the theater.
Nemorino is the son of a hardworking immigrant family. His parents have sacrificed much to bring him to the US, where he could have a better life. He would never compromise that choice by drinking illegal liquor that could get them all in trouble. He works hard during the day as an unskilled laboror, and at night, he goes to school to learn to read and write English. But sometimes, the work can be too much for him.
Adina loves to show literary films at her picture house. Luckily for Nemorino, sometimes those films are adaptations of the books he's been assigned for class. That's how he ends up at this theater so often...just to study, of course!
Dulcamara has been peddling his bathtub gin around the country for a long time, managing to slip it by the authorities as a "medicinal tonic." But lately, with so much talk of FDR ending Prohibition, Dulcamara isn't working so hard to convince his customers that the tonic is medicinal. They're all in on the joke...except for poor sweet Nemorino.
The technology in 1933 would only allow a reel to contain half a movie's worth of film. So in the middle, while the projectionist changed the reel, the audience would be treated to a newsreel and a cartoon.
And this is where we begin our story, on a day of record heat in July, 1933.