As the Shadow's main character is Claudia (impressive newcomer Anita Kravos) a drifting, unfocused woman in her late thirties. She works at a travel agency in Milan, and is taking Russian in an apparent effort to improve her usefulness at work. Despite keeping her in frame for virtually the entire film, director Marina Spada refuses to let us get to know Claudia, holding us at a distance both physically and emotionally. On the rare occasions that we are allowed to see her interacting with her friends or spending time with a very casual boyfriend, we are always watching from across the street, through a window, or around a closed door. We can see their affection, but hear nothing. And when Claudia talks to her sister, it's clear they're close, but the words they exchange give us very little sense of what Claudia is like inside, apart from a bit cynical about the world around her (a trait she likely shares with much of her generation).

Out of boredom as much as anything else, she attempts to initiate a relationship with her Russian professor (Boris, played by Paolo Pierobon), a native of Ukraine who claims to have once taught Italian at a university in Kiev. Despite -- or, more like, because of -- his refusal to get involved with her (he is, he says, her professor, and it wouldn't be appropriate), the two nevertheless retain an indistinct closeness, and during the summer holidays Boris visits, seemingly interested in rekindling their nascent relationship. It turns out, however, that he wants something from Claudia: His distant cousin Olga (Karolina Dafne Porcari) is coming to visit and needs somewhere to stay for a few days. Utterly unpersuaded by Boris' embarrassingly transparent attempt at seduction, Claudia nevertheless agrees to take Olga in, mostly out of the idle hope that something interesting might happen as a result.