American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"The Swimmer" is the story of a man who begins at the dawn of a new day to swim in the backyard pool of some friends. The water is cool and fresh, and the day is beautiful.
As he has a drink with his friends, it occurs to him that a string of other backyard pools reaches all the way across the valley to his own home. Why not swim every one -- swim all the way home, as it were? This sounds like a glorious adventure, and indeed it starts but that way. He even meets a lovely girl who agrees to come along on the journey.
Some of the pool owners are happy to see him. Others hate him. One is a bitter young woman who loved him once. We learn something about this man's life at every poolside, until finally we are able to piece together a story of his disgrace and failure.
"The Swimmer" begins as a perfectly realistic film. But somewhere along the way we realize it is an allegory, and the ending makes that clear. It is also a very stylized film. As the swimmer (Burt Lancaster) pauses beside each pool, his conversations with the owners sound real enough, and yet somehow they are very stiff, very correct, as if everybody were reading lines or this were a dream.