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 aftermath of World War II, three youngish Americans arrive in Tangier in search of new experiences. They describe themselves as travelers, not tourists. They intend to immerse themselves in the Northern African culture and climate, to taste the exotic and judge the forbidden for themselves. Two of them - Porter and Kit Moresby - are a married couple, writers, intellectuals, who have remained together for some 10 years even though there are large unsettled areas between them. The third is their friend, George Tunner, who is along more or less as a lark.
They seek the exotic, and they find it. Dazed by the brightness of the desert sun, seduced by the darkness of the labyrinth of the city’s streets, confronted by a society where every sensual excess is available more or less on demand, they lose their roots as housebroken Americans. They are intoxicated by freedom, but instead of liberating their creative juices so that they can write those novels that are penned up inside, they grow restless and dissatisfied - with themselves, with each other.
Port and Kit are obviously losing their moorings. Tunner is curious about the exact nature of their relationship - there are scenes subtly suggesting he may have an erotic curiosity about both of them - and concerned that they are losing their way. They fall in with the local expatriate community, particularly with the unspeakable Lyles, mother and son, who claim to be writing a travel book but seem more obsessed by their own Freudian tangles.
The city grows restrictive to the Moresbys. The desert beckons, and they are seduced by its purity, beauty and harshness, much as another traveler, T. E. Lawrence, once was. They venture out into its wildness. Port sickens and dies, and Kim is rescued - or so it seems at the time - by a passing Arab, who makes her his concubine. By now the sun is so hot, the light so harsh, the shadows so deep and the bizarre so real that Kit has hardly any hold left on reality.