(Asif Kapadia, 2010, UK)
I went into Senna with both a non-existent knowledge of its protagonist and very minimal interest in Formula One racing, a sport I have continuously viewed as being nothing more than cars whizzing round a track countless times. However, having read several praiseworthy reviews, many of which stressed just how little importance an involvement in the sport actually is when watching, I embraced Asif Kapadia’s latest film with a similar amount of enthusiasm I bestow upon certain other areas of cinema. And boy, did that enthusiasm pay off.
A documentary entirely made up of stock footage, spliced together with intimate family movies, Senna charts the life of the ruthless Brazilian-born Formula One maverick Ayrton Senna and his rapid ascension of the ranks of race driving to eventually becoming three-time world champion, battling adversity, controversy and the harsh internal politics of the sport in the process. Painted as a charming, unequaled and fiercely determined competitor, Senna’s life was a tour de force full of passion and fueled by desire, relentlessly defining himself by his many achievements, and this is strongly conveyed throughout the film. Kapadia presents us with a melange of material so intimately grouped together and affectionately captured that you get the feeling it was originally shot with every intention of documenting his astonishing life. The camera loves him, and eventually so do we, despite his occasionally ill-judged competition with friend turned rival Alain Prost, an element that charges most of the drama. Though an honorable man, he clearly stopped at nothing to come out on top.
Unlike a bulk of contemporary documentaries awash with countless numbers of questionably accurate techniques, Senna is never mired by its constructive nature, instead boosted by its tightly edited footage interwoven with voice overs that complement and reflect the on-screen action, which is told with such truthful resonance that any possibility of Kapadia manipulating the footage are both null and void. So respectful are his intentions in creating a loving portraiture.
Hurtling along at a swift pace, Senna is in turns insightful, humorous and intense, building up to a devastating conclusion fraught with emotion that never seems tacky or overwrought. An invigorating and deftly handled documentary, Senna is less a film about Formula One racing, more a heartfelt ode, no, a celebration of this all-conquering vehicular hero. I strongly recommend it.
- Senna, 2010. [Film] Directed by Asif Kapadia. UK: Universal Pictures.