1989. A few weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Pago, Rice and Bibi, three twenty-four-year-olds, leave quiet Cesena in search of adventure: a ten-day vacation in Eastern Europe, to those places where the Soviet regime is still present. Arriving in Budapest, they meet Emil, a Romanian fleeing his country because of the dictatorship.
The man, worried about his family remaining in Romania, asks for the help of the three Italians. The task is simple: to bring a suitcase to his wife and daughter. Doubtful about the contents of the luggage, the three friends decide to check the inside before accepting, but Emil reassures them by saying that it contains only items that cannot be found in Romania: coffee, perfume, chocolate and other products.
He also recounts his terrible experience under Ceausescu's dictatorship and the reasons for his escape. Distracted by the man's words, Pago, Rice, and Bibi set off without, however, checking the actual contents of the luggage. After realizing their mistake, the three attempt to open it, realizing, however, that it is locked by a mechanism that requires a key. Frightened and feeling that they have been taken for a ride, they abandon the luggage.
After a few kilometers, once they see what conditions the Romanian people live in, moved by guilt and doubts about the act they have done, they decide to go back and retrieve the suitcase. Arriving at the place of abandonment, they find that the object is no longer there.
They see a red car not far away carrying the lost luggage. In their attempt to reach it, a flock of sheep blocks their car's passage, ensuring an easy escape for the red Romanian Dacia.
Pago, Rice and Bibi decide to head for Bucharest anyway. They have Emil's address and every intention of letting his family know that the man is all right.
On the long drive, through deserted towns, restaurants with no food, and Ceausescu's face on every road sign, the three make the acquaintance of a compatriot whom they nickname "the Modenese," because of where he comes from. The man is engaged in less than legitimate business and boasts to the three that he has several valid documents to cross the border undisturbed.
After staying with Simona's family, a girl introduced by the Modenese man, the three finally reach Bucharest. The climate of dictatorship on the streets is as it was described to them by Emil. Along the city streets Pago, Rice, and Bibi find the red Dacia parked in front of a restaurant. The place is deserted except for a couple of musicians on stage. The pianist and singer have their suitcase with them and ask the boys why they threw it away. The ensuing dialogue makes Pago, Rice and Bibi realize the true importance of that object. What they have abandoned is not just a suitcase, but the hope of a family.
The three finally arrive at Emil's house. Opening the luggage in front of his wife Andra, six-year-old daughter Adina, and grandmother Costelia stirs great emotion. With the mission accomplished, the three meet Niki, Emil's best friend as well as neighbor. The man invites them to a party he is hosting that evening in his apartment.
On their way to the hotel, Pago, Rice and Bibi stop at the Bucharest Central Post Office to phone their respective families. Bibi, trying to recover his relationship with his girlfriend, reveals details about the mission on Emil's behalf and the delivery of the suitcase to his family.
In the evening, during the party organized by Niki, two men warn him that the Romanian securitate has discovered the presence of the three Italians and that Emil's family now risks serious retaliation because they are considered enemies of the republic. Pago and Rice discover that Bibi may be to blame for everything, and now the only solution is to get Andra, Adina, and Nonna Costelia out of the country.
The Italians turn to the Modenese to obtain false documents for the three women, but the amount to be paid is too high. Pago, Rice and Bibi, therefore, are forced to take a truckload of smuggled cigarettes to local gangsters on behalf of the Modenese in order to obtain the passports. After risking their lives and waiting a couple of days for documents, they can now head for the border with Emil's family.
The three friends make the women more Western in appearance and deportment by managing to cross the border in a daring manner. Upon reaching Budapest Emil can finally re-embrace his family. Thanking The Three for the heroic gesture, the man unwittingly reveals details he should not know; thus Pago, Rice, and Bibi discover that no secret police have ever been on their trail and that everything has been a well-conceived plan to force them to get Emil's family out of the country.
It is almost Christmas. The news announces the end of Ceausescu's regime. Pago, Rice and Bibi are caught up in their daily lives in Italy. Their eyes observe the images with a different awareness than that of their relatives, respective girlfriends or friends.
They have experienced everything firsthand. They have breathed those smells. They have lived an adventure.