A strange cinematic take on resort life

Ian Lagarde on the inspiration behind his new film All You Can Eat Buddha.

Ludovic Berthillot in All You Can Eat Buddha

The inspiration behind Ian Lagarde’s All You Can Eat Buddha isn’t immediately obvious. It follows Mike (Ludovic Berthillot), a hulking Frenchman who arrives at an all-inclusive resort in South America all alone. A man of few words, Mike spends his days wolfing down food from the buffet and lounging around. He barely speaks to anyone, from the overly enthusiastic dance instructor (David La Haye) to the supernaturally devoted maitre’d (Sylvio Arriola) and yet his presence begins to have a calming effect on the resort. As he decides to prolong his stay, he stops taking his insulin shots and begins performing something resembling miracles on the guests while the unnamed country undergoes a revolution both civil and natural.

You would assume from the grotesque, lightly psychedelic depiction of the all-inclusive lifestyle that Lagarde had a real bad time at a resort once upon a time, but as he explains, the inspiration came to him in a much more pragmatic way.

“I’d never even been in an all-inclusive resort before writing the film,” he explained over the phone from Paris, where he is doing a writing residency. “It’s never something I’ve particularly been interested in, until the day that I was with a friend in Mexico and we decided ‘Fuck it, let’s have a gringo day!’ We went to this all-inclusive-ish water park. They give you a bracelet and you eat from a buffet and so on; it was very strange, and not really the kind of context in which I felt very comfortable. I was reading Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha – which is kind of a kitschy vacation read in a way – at the time and, I don’t know – it just dawned on me.”

“I thought it was really interesting to juxtapose the sacred kitsch of a hero’s journey like the one in Siddhartha with the context of an all-inclusive resort, which is more in the profane kitsch realm. I felt there was a lot of potential in that, but it stayed within me for a while until I finally got it down on paper. So, no, it wasn’t a traumatic experience… but the first time I went to one for research purposes – quote-unquote research – it confirmed a few things I had suspected but it did open my mind to that kind of environment. It’s a pretty particular place.”

Though the film wavers between satire and something a little more left-field (a talking octopus eventually features prominently), Lagarde does turn a caustic eye towards the very tradition of the all-inclusive resort.

“It is a space that scares me, in a way,” he says. “I don’t judge in the sense that I don’t judge the people who attend them – I understand that intuition. But the only time that I went to one… I had to kind of face the fact that if I was going to write a movie set in an all-inclusive resort, I should probably go to one! (laughs) I was with my younger brothers and I had set out to stay there for a full week. Thankfully, after three days they came to me and said, ‘Dude, we have to get the fuck out of here!’ I jumped on the occasion!

“I spent a lot of time on resorts, especially during the shoot. It’s a very strange place – I’m more fascinated by them than I am judgmental. The employees are both security guards for the guests but also keepers of public order! (laughs) They’re caretakers and prison guards at the same time. You’re always under surveillance on a resort – it puts you in a very particular mood.”

Some of the film’s festival reviews seem to describe a rather different film than the one I watched: one that’s filled with trippy or grotesque imagery but short on ideas. “Some people have thought that the film’s message was a little vague,” says Lagarde. “First of all, I don’t want to make message movies – that’s not why I make movies. I made this movie because I was interested in exploring and juxtaposing two forms of kitsch and I wanted to set a ‘noble’ mystic quest in a place as ‘profane’ as this resort. From there, it became a commentary on the perpetual cyclical reincarnation of political systems. I see it this way: this guy comes in and sets off, by his mere presence and consumption of resources that creates a crisis on an island that’s depicted as generic but does resemble Cuba. The idea wasn’t to explore the Cuban system, it’s simply the fact that his mere presence creates a lack of resources on the island. (…) My goal was not to be preachy – nothing annoys me more than a movie that preaches. I hate being told how to feel.”

All You Can Eat Buddha is Lagarde’s first fiction feature as a director, but he’s logged time as a cinematographer as well – notably on Denis Côté’s Vic + Flo ont vu un ours. I mention that both his film and his general approach remind me of Côté’s, both visually and in its deadpan approach to humour.

“It’s the kind of universe that has always attracted me,” says Lagarde. “It’s probably not a coincidence that I wound up working with Denis at some point. There’s definitely an influence, but beyond that, this film is influenced by the cinema of the ’70s. As I was writing it, I realized the character was like the main character from Teorema. He comes in and fucks everything up, gets everyone’s pulses racing… Visitor Q is another movie like that, in a totally different register! (laughs)

“On the sound design level, Antonioni’s L’Avventura is a big influence in the way that you constantly hear the waves in the background. I was fascinated by that. You know, I make this movie about resorts, but I’m the first guy to admit I love the beach. I love the ritual of swimming, laying down, swimming, laying down… it’s a kind of auto-hypnosis, in a way. The waves work like a mantra.” ■

All You Can Eat Buddha opens in theatres on Friday, Feb. 16. Watch the trailer here: