American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
I don't suppose "The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner" can be described as plausible, but it's lovable in a way that's sometimes goofy, sometimes sad, always optimistic. The places are Bulgaria and Italy. The times are the Cold War and the present. The story shuttles between both times and both places.
In a village in today's Bulgaria, a small group of friends meet every day to gossip and play backgammon, a game they take very seriously. How seriously? As a matter of pride, they don't play for money. To be the winner of their never-ending tournament is to be the King of Backgammon, i.e., the world. The reigning king is the immensely likable Bai Dan (Miki Manojlovic).
One day tragic news arrives. Bai Dan's son and daughter-in-law have been killed in an automobile crash. His grandson, Sashko (Carlo Ljubek), has survived. In flashbacks that continue through the film, we learn more of the story. Under the communist regime, Bai Dan had not expressed the proper devotion to the authorities. You wouldn't call him a dissident, but he's feisty and sarcastic, and mocks a sullen man in a business suit who often sits in the cafe but refuses to join in a game.
This bureaucrat puts pressure on Bai Dan's son to inform on the old man. This suggests the young people, the wife pregnant, should leave the country quickly, and we follow them on a fraught odyssey through Yugoslavia to a refugee camp in Italy. Here they hope to get their papers to move on to Germany. In interlocking flashbacks, they're kept on indefinite hold by Italian authorities, who like collecting a per diem for their upkeep. Years pass. Then there is the crash.