1919 – the defeated Austro-Hungarian Empire is losing control of the city port of Fiume to pirates. A self-styled "Pirate King", Gabriele d'Annunzio (poet, Italian war hero and Dadaist) storms the city with 3000 loyal Italian footsoldiers. He declares Fiume a free Republic: a utopian city-state, with himself as Commander. The city soon descends into looting and surreal decadence, reminiscent of the last days of Rome.
Amid this chaos, the beautiful Mina, a black-haired young singer, is lost in this city gone mad, consumed by a love affair with a young soldier. Haunted by the horror of the trenches, a soldier, Lauriano, hunts Fiume's alleys in vain for the ghost that haunts his dreams.