American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
In the lagoon of Venice, remote from the city's famous charms, is an island fishing village named Chioggia. Here, since time immemorial, fisherman set out to feed the city's hunger for scampi and the other creatures trapped in their nets. It is a small community, and many of the regulars hang out at the same taverna.
One of these is Bepi, played by the Croatian actor Rade Sherbedgia. You may not recall the name but you will remember the face: 60-ish, weathered, wise. He plays a man facing retirement, who lost his wife a year ago, and is a solitary soul. The bar is owned by Chinese, and one day, a new bartender appears. This is Shun Li (Tao Zhao), in her 30s, divorced, working to pay back the people who paid to bring her from China and to pay for a ticket so her 8-year-old son can join her.
The customers, like all the regulars in small provincial places, know each other well and don't fail to observe a thing. When a subtle, unstated friendship begins to form between Shun Li and Bepi, they do not approve. They feel somehow threatened, as if this relationship will disturb the fixed pattern of their days.
Shun Li and Bepi do not feel passion in the ordinary sense. They have found kindred souls and are linked by their regard for poetry. Bepi's nickname is “Poet,” and Shun Li tells him of China's greatest poet, Qu Yuan, whose birthday is observed every year by floating candles on water. Bepi is from the former Yugoslavia, and even after 30 years in Venice he's still something of an outsider. Both are lonely, and romantics at heart.