Senna (2010)


Director:  Asif Kapadia
Plot:  A documentary on Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna, who won the F1 world championship three times before his death at age 34.

Genre:  Documentary / Biography / Sport
Awards:  Won Audience Award (Sundance Film Festival).  Won 2 Baftas - Best Documentary, Best Editing.  Nom. for 1 Bafta - Outstandling British Film.
Runtime:  106min
Rating:  PG for some strong language and disturbing images.

Senna.  Not the former Villarreal football player, but the legendary Brazilian F1 race driver.  His meteoric rise from go-kart racer to one of the greatest talents to grace the big racetracks in just a few years was nothing short of astonishing.  His skills were unparalleled, so was his humility and passion toward competitive racing. 

Very sadly, he is not here with us anymore.  He left us in 1994 in a horrific accident while competing at the San Marino Grand Prix that tragically took his life.  Ayrton Senna's short existence in racing is expertly documented in this British documentary production that is a wonderful tribute to an inspiring sporting icon.

Directed by Asif Kapadia, Senna is surprisingly entertaining as a documentary, but come to think of it, it's unsurprising to feel so because of its subject matter - F1 racing.  For better or worse, F1 has captured our imagination (and disdain) in equal measure, a sport so indulgent and excessive, yet exciting and thrilling when big egos clash (and sometimes crash) off and on the racetrack. 

But as Senna puts it, crashes sometimes happen, but as long as only the car gets injured and nothing else, there is no need to worry.  Well, Senna did cheat death a couple of times; still he ran out of luck eventually.  The footage of his fatal crash is shown, but to Kapadia's credit, he doesn't repeat it out of respect.

The documentary is brilliantly edited, both visuals and sound, as the filmmakers assemble a 100+ minute feature out of existing raw, archival footage that is a mixture of past interviews with Senna, racing videos including those taken from Senna's race car, and even intimate home videos of his. 

When put together, the energy and passion of Senna is for all to savour, as he inspires and in particular helps poor kids living in poverty in his homeland Brazil to strive for a better future.  Kapadia tells both a sporting story and a human one, both intertwining into the mould of a model figure who stands for perseverance and determination.

Senna was and still is a hero to many.  His death was foreshadowed by a number of events that shaped F1, many of which were political.  He fought his battles and rivalries, but he emerged unscathed because he valued fair racing and stuck to his guns even when the shots were down. 

There is a tinge of melancholy in Kapadia's work, but it is often life-affirming and heartfelt when it needs to be.  Brazil may have won the World Cup in 1994, but it is fair to say that Ayrton Senna's death was just as profoundly affecting.

Verdict:  Brilliantly pieced together from raw footage, this documentary about the legendary F1 race driver Ayrton Senna is inspiring as it is tragic.


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