A Heaping Plate of WTF

All You Can Eat Buddha
(Canada, 88 min.)
Written and directed by Ian Lagarde
Starring: Sylvio Arriola, Ludovic Berthillot, Yaite Ruiz, David La Haye, Alexander Guerrero
Ian Lagarde serves a heaping plate of WTF in All You Can Eat Buddha. The film marks Lagarde’s first feature as a director after helming a handful of shorts and serving as cinematographer on a variety of projects including Denis Côté’s Vic + Flo Saw a Bear. All You Can Eat Buddha fits the context of Lagarde’s greater filmography since it’s staged and delivered with the sparsity and economy of a short work with dense and rich visuals. This strange beast needs a while to digest.

Lagarde gives audiences both Buddha and paradise as he sets the lush drama at an all-inclusive Cuban. Buddha comes in the form of a rotund vacationer named Mike (Ludovic Berthillot) who arrives at the Palacio with a voracious appetite ready to soak up the sun and get all that he can eat at the buffet. The staff members are ever attentive to his needs and wants, including the concierge Valentino (Canadian Screen Award nominee Sylvio Arriola, a jovial presence) and the maid Esmerelda (Yaité Ruiz). The resort earns its stars while catering to their guest’s ever-evolving appetite.

People come and people go in this grand hotel, but Mike always stays. The barrage of well-to-do travellers finds a way to satiate him, leave him wanting more, and to extend his trip to the delight/horror of his ever-accommodating hosts. The portly man is the shaman of Paradise as he heals the living and performs minor miracles to help the well-being of his fellow travellers.

Things become strange very quickly in All You Can Eat Buddha. What begins as an oddity morphs into a monster. Mike’s self-indulgence leaves something rotten in the belly and if there’s one thing that spoils a holiday inn, it’s a bad plate of grub. Berthillot gives a hypnotic performance of voracious joie de vive. Despite Mike’s jolliness, he’s a grotesque presence and Lagarde uses the actor’s body effectively within the frame. The Buddha becomes immobilized by his own gluttony and endures in the hotel as a benign, if benevolent figure.

Paradise devolves into a hellish purgatory as the traveller eats and eats and eats and eats. One could easily simplify All You Can Eat Buddha as a commentary on western consumption, but Lagarde offers something higher here, something more elusive and intangible yet more satisfying. Throw in an octopus with an unsettling presence among the slow action, languid visuals, and disquieting soundtrack built mostly of background noise and Lagarde whips up an unconventional spread of sights and sounds to savour. It’s an oyster of a film, really: hard to crack, strange, and slippery, but enjoy it with a hearty slurp that just might leave you retching.