The storyline in Que Sera is straightforward enough: two young sisters, Sera and Yvonne, are the new heirs to a bankrupt family business – a funeral parlour: the remains of what was once a flourishing estate now in debt, bankruptcy and splinters. The story builds up as Sera, along with Yvonne and Billie (a relative?), try to revive the dead business by giving it a facelift and a re-launch. For this they hire the services of three men – James, a supposed hearse-driver, a front office manager (clearly qualified on false documents) and a mortician – and the business gradually picks up. In the process of things, a “wronged spirit” gets in the way causing havoc and disruption. Various homegrown remedies are tried out to make the spirit leave, which includes a grand thovil ceremony. The spirit is finally lured away, but through kindness and empathy. The chief strand of the text is intersected with another dominant thread – one of a woman who communicates with “spirits” and who walks cemeteries at night: the proxy who finally restores order by “removing” the spirit.
Parakrama Jayasinghe, the maker of Que Sera, is not the first Lankan in that trade to try out this formula of the Evil Supernatural in the moulding of comedy. Another convenient contemporary example is not too further afield in Udayakantha Warnasuriya, who is making yards with the sequel to his Bahu Bhoothayo, Gindaree. Even if one is to transcend film and address the larger discourse of literature in general, the Lankan creative space has a palpable connection with the use of the supernatural in enhancing humour and comedy. However, a stand out feature of Que Sera is the “darkness” of the humour: the brackish cynicism that often punctuates the trigger to laughter.
In this respect, Que Sera departs from the Tennyson-Samarasinghe model of humour with which the contemporary Lankan audiences are more savvy. Or, let us say that Que Sera does not go there in the first place, but preoccupies itself with a more nuanced, even subtly self-conscious pulp of humour which is part cynical while being witty on situations and vocabulary. It is perceptively ironical, while throwing in germs of traditional slapstick. At times, the humour is essentially “superficial”, but descends to depths and ditches in unexpected ways at unexpected moments. Specially, the character of the “mad woman” who speaks to spirits represents a subtle dose of humour which is less obvious at first interaction. The very setting of the story itself – a debilitating funeral parlour in the hands of a dashing sisterhood – sharpens the dark humour with which Jayasinghe treats his material.
Passages of Que Sera readily resonate a tradition in Popular Cinema found in more commonplace examples such as a younger Woody Allen. The quasi-philosophical dimension (as used, perhaps, to self-defeat the pomposity of the quasi-philosophical tradition) which stems out at regular intervals and the overall mould with its spirits, darkness and marginal absurdity reminds us of an Allen of the 1970s and 80s (before he became quite unbearable in the 2000s). Love and Death (1975), for instance, is one such production that came to my mind while going through Que Sera. The Absurdist impulse, of course, may claim its ancestry from a line of theater and film that run back to the immediate post World War times of Ionesco and Beckett.
On the technical front, Que Sera has a few details that can benefit from improvement (unless, of course, these are faults with the cheap DVD I purchased for Rs 150 in a pirated DVD shop). A lack of softness in “cuts” can be detected in several scenes, where abrupt shifts from one shot to another defeats the aesthetic symmetry of the work. While I cannot comment on Sera’s singing and James’ stint on the saxophone – as I am no expert in those departments – there definitely were calls for improvement in the laying of tracks. From a conceptual standpoint, though, Que Sera can be ranked as a film that strived to pitch a familiar clay at a challenging and novel level.