Review: Senna (2010)

Senna (2010)

Directed by: Asif Kapadia | 105 minutes | documentary | Starring: Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Frank Williams, Ron Dennis, Viviane Senna, Milton da Silva, Neide Senna, Jackie Stewart, Sid Watkins, Galvao Bueno, Reginaldo Leme, Gerhard Berger, Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Jean-Marie Balestre, Michael Schumacher, Bussunda, Rubens Barrichello, Luiz Fernando Lima, Damon Hill, Riccardo Patrese, Bernie Ecclestone

‘Senna’ is a wonderful documentary about the ten years (from 1984 to 1994) that Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna appeared like a comet in the world of Formula 1 and left a lasting impact after his early and tragic death. British filmmaker Asif Kapadia has made a masterful move for his debut as a documentary maker (he only made feature films before that). He has not opted for a standard set-up for a documentary, with interviews of the so-called “talking heads” in studios, interspersed with archive footage. No, his original approach is that only original archive footage is used. Segments of important races, interviews with the driver and his competitors from the time, supplemented with private video recordings of the family. The later recorded conversations with, among others, Senna’s parents and sister, colleagues and sports reporters reminiscing are mounted under the images.

Fortunately, the makers often let Ayrton Senna speak for himself, during the many conversations he had with the media during his stormy career. Also for people who absolutely do not like Formula 1 racing, ‘Senna’ is not to be missed. Some prior knowledge of Senna’s career is useful, but the subtitles neatly indicate which race is being driven at what time, so it is not essential. While the racing itself is an important part, the documentary actually follows the classic lines of the tragic hero from both mythology and literature. A young hero, who quickly rises, encounters all kinds of obstacles in his path, overcomes adversity and perishes in the moment of his glory. The special thing is that this chosen line does not deviate or hardly deviates from reality. Senna’s life can also be read as that of one of Homer’s heroes, or of the Medieval Arthurian legends.

A hero also includes a villain. In this documentary there are actually two. First of all, Alain Prost, the multiple world champion, who sees Senna’s entrance into Formula 1 with regret and after a few years suddenly ends up with him in one team at McLaren. Prost is portrayed quite unsympathetic, up to and including a nasty attempt at the host of an English talk show. In the background, as a sort of supervillain à la Blofeld, is the figure of the FIA ​​president, Jean-Marie Balestre, who as a fellow Frenchman would prefer Prost.

At the center is Senna’s passion for racing and racing alone. He doesn’t like the intrigue and politics of Formula 1. So he is portrayed here as a lonely hero, who has to compete against enormous interests. He is also committed to increased driver safety, which is particularly impressive in light of his own fatal accident at the Imola circuit on May 1, 1994. If the documentary has one flaw, it is that the main character remains an enigma. We see Senna from the outside, his passion for racing, his advocacy for safety, his commentary on the rivalry with Prost. We see him relaxing on vacation, sunbathing and water skiing. His boyish grin, the tousled head of hair and big brown and so sensitive eyes. But who he really was is never quite clear. His private life also remains largely unexposed. This makes it mainly a love letter to Senna and criticism of his personality and driving style is largely omitted. Finally, the rather variable quality of the archive images means that the advantages of a Blu-ray disc over a DVD are negated.

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