Pastorela – VLAFF Film Review

Pastorela, a Mexican film produced in 2011, screened at Harbour Centre as part of last week’s Latin American Film Festival and was met with peals of laughter and shocked gasps. Emilio Portes’s comedy introduces the audience to the concept of a Mexican pastorela, or ‘nativity play’, that is performed annually around Christmas. For Agent Jesus “Chucho” Juarez (Joaquín Cosio), the annual pastorela is his time to hang up his police uniform and shine as the Devil, a role for which everyone in town agrees he is best suited. However, things do not unfold as planned when Padre Mundo (Carlos Cobos), a new pastor at Chucho’s community church, recasts the role of the Devil, leaving Chucho in the dust and looking for vengeance.

This black comedy is set in a traditional Mexican town that seems to have a problem with the supernatural. When we first meet Padre Mundo he is in the midst of performing an unsuccessful exorcism, complete with projectile vomit and flying furniture. Mundo is not your usual religious leader, and is called to take over a local church after the former pastor passed away whilst engaging in some very unbiblical behaviour with a young nun. Mundo drops everything (including the still possessed subject of his failed exorcism) and prepares himself for what he imagines to be comparatively dull and unfulfilling work. However, he inadvertently bites off more than he can chew when he takes Chucho’s rightful role as the Devil, and hands it off to Compadre Bulmaro (Eduardo España), a wimpy cab driver. When it is revealed that this year’s pastorela will be entered into a prestigious competition, Chucho vows to regain his role at any cost. The film carries on until Chucho and Mundo are no longer simply fighting about the play, but waging a war of Good vs. Evil, as Chucho’s behaviour becomes more erratic and he begins to gain strange new abilities.

The film is an entertaining and competent comedy peppered with pop culture references. Joaquin Cosio uses his imposing stature well as Chucho. He makes a suave and threatening devil, a stark contrast to the small, thin and sniveling cab driver, Compadre Bulmaro, who is chosen as his replacement. Cosio is charming, has great comedic timing and can deliver a stare so menacing it’s no wonder the other characters are afraid of him. Most of the humour is derived from Chucho’s increasingly desperate and insane attempts to regain his role in the pastorela. Even when Mundo attempts to appease him by offering the roll of the Archangel Michael, Chucho refuses, using the resources of his police force and even attempting to frame an innocent man in the murder of a politician in order to get his way. Chucho’s long suffering daughter can only roll her eyes as she watches the madness unfold. Certainly one of the best and most random elements of the film was the continual appearance of the demonically possessed man, played by Héctor Jiménez, best known for his role as Jack Black’s scrawny sidekick in Nacho Libre. He pops up whenever you least suspect, and is a reminder of the otherworldly powers active in the world of the film. Although Pastorela fosters a fair amount of laughs, many of the jokes, particularly the ones centered on foul-mouthed priests get stale once the initial shock has worn off. The film’s absurd plot however keeps it afloat until its bloody and bizarre conclusion.

While this is not the strongest comedy I’ve seen this year, Pastorela still provided an amusing hour and a half with more than one hearty belly laugh. The film succeeds in combining Mexican tradition with current pop culture and raunchy humour. If you are on the search for a Christmas movie that’s sure to be offensive to at least some Christians, be sure to hunt this one down.