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The story in this movie is in many ways like a fable, even if it is somehow pointless in its conclusion. It is about the relationship between two unequal friends and the meaning of friendship for them.
The bear, played by Philippe Noiret, is the conductor of a music hall orchestra, a kind hearted soul, always ready to help the next person if need arises. The fox, played by Jean Rochefort, is a trumpeter in the bear's orchestra and his friend since childhood. After an evening's performance a young woman enters their common dressing room, draws a revolver and starts shooting at the fox. She cries out that he has ruined her sister but is far too nervous to aim straight and causes no real harm. After she has run away, the fox gets into hiding, asking the bear to find the woman he swears he has never seen before. He makes a list of all his lovers, and it is a very long list indeed.
The (strictly monogamous) bear travels through all of France in the quest of the woman whose life the fox has ruined, in the hope that the murderous sister can be captured and the fox can go on with his life. He meets all kind of womenfolk and learns a lot about his friend who is a far more dubious and amoral person than he had thought previously. Now and then he visits the fox in his hole, bringing him a carton of take away food. His subservient behavior is not without merits as it enriches his comfortable, peaceful but rather dull life considerably. The end reveals that he searched in all the wrong places, that the whole affair was about something entirely different than he and his friend had assumed. The bear becomes aware that the search in itself was the main theme of the whole affair and an enriching experience.
Philippe Noiret and Jean Rochefort make an excellent team in this movie as they really are very different in their exterior appearance but can still form a bond that is convincing (see also L'horloger de Saint Paul by Bertrand Tavernier). I think it is great that they chose an actor for the part of the fox who is not overly attractive. This, together with Pierre Granier-Deferre's excellent direction and pacing and his keen eye for locations make L'Ami de Vincent a very pleasant movie.
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