In 1960, Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin undertook a new approach to documentary filmmaking, by posing direct questions such as "How's your life going ? How do you manage ?"
Both the filmmakers and their subjects (men and women of all ages) share in the experience of "cinema vérité" thus raising basic questions about the nature of happiness - particularly the inevitable tension between the poetic and trivial facets of our existence.
Should Hermann spend his whole life in the chocolate business? The Russian living in exile owns a comfortable apartment in Berlin, drives a speedy convertible car, and is married to Lydia - she is only moderately intelligent but very attractive. Hermann has an increasing feeling of being able to step out of his body, to stand beside it and watch himself, such as while making love to his wife. He is getting to like this state and soon becomes addicted. When he meets a tramp called Felix Weber on one of his business trips, he develops an unbelievable idea: Hermann is convinced that Felix is his very image to the last detail. The appearance of his double serves him as an inspiration: what if he just disappeared, opting out of his old life and starting a new existence under a different name?
Alfredo Martelli is a wicked and despicable man. He is an antique-dealer and he does not miss a chance to achieve financial success. One fine morning the police break in his apartment and bring him to the police station: he is accused of the murder of Adalgisa de Matteis, an ex-mistress of his, who was involved in his business. During the long and painful interrogation, Alfredo remembers some obscure fragments of his past.
Thanks to the revelation of his protecting saint, photographer Celestino Esposito discovers that his camera has a special power: a simple click can make evil men disappear. He then finds out that it wasn’t due to the power of the saint but of the devil in person. In the end, he wakes up and realizes that it was all a dream.
Caracas, Venezuela. Just after her engagement with Vittorio, Nelly runs away from him. As he pursued her, she looks for help to Martin, a French middle-aged man she met by accident. He helps her to escape and drives her to the airport and gives her a plane ticket to Paris. Then he thinks he can go back to his peaceful lonely life on his island. Of course, he is wrong and will be bothered again by Nelly...
Paris under Louis Philippe, Boulevard du Crime. Love and death played out among the actors and buffoons. From here, the love shared by the beautiful Garance and the mime Jean-Baptiste Debureau is ever countered by a fickle destiny. Around them, other fates are decided - that of the dandy and murderer Lacenaire, of Nathalie who marries Jean-Baptiste but can't forget her rival, of Frederick whose one true love is the theater.
In August 1914, a general mobilization puts an end to the quietness of European life. Five people from different countries and backgrounds find themselves in 1918 in the rubble of a trench in a No Man's Land from the front. In this pocket where fraternization finally settled, the Black, a polyglot, is a federative and entertaining element when tensions revive. Their presence detected, they must again make common cause to get away with a massive bombardment. When comes the end of fightings, they hammer at barbwires, symbol of boundary between people.