Saturday, 4 June 2011

Film #54 Senna

I've mentioned previously that I've really been looking forward to this, and I'm delighted that Cineworld (I'll name them, as they deserve credit) have seen fit to give it a nationwide release - unusual for what is ostensibly a niche-interest documentary feature. I'd seen the trailer a couple of times too, and it really took me back to a silver age of motor racing, back when I was a kid and used to love watching Formula One and seeing those men race - men who now seem like gods-that-walked-the-earth: Prost, Mansell, Patrese, Piquet and of course, the handsome, puckish, charismatic & superfast Ayrton Senna - the sporting hero of my youth.

To talk of a plot in a documentary sounds silly, but the story here - culminating in the infamous crash that caused his death in 1994 - really does build like a drama. Starting out in Senna's early days, through his monumental for-the-ages rivalry with the more pragmatic and politically minded Alain Prost and on to his death, all of the footage is archive footage from old interviews, TV race footage and so on. There is no narrator, nor are there recent interviews or talking heads. This is a bold move on the part of director Asif Kapadia, yet it works beautifully. The entire film has a sense almost of found footage, or lost pieces of a wonderful feature film that was never made.

There is also boldness in putting Senna's deep spirituality front-and-centre, a trait that was well-known to his enormous Brazilian fanbase but rarely came across to Europeans. For Ayrton, racing was a religious experience that brought him into communion with God, and watching some of the prolonged 'on-car' mid-race sequences, the audience does come close to understanding the meditative stillness that can be derived from maintaining such complete control.

I can only urge you to go and see this, whether you have any prior knowledge of F1 or not. It is a masterclass in documentary (and highly cinematic too; well worth seeing on the big screen) - it's smart, funny, gripping, horrifying and as moving a piece of cinema I've seen all year. As a window to an extraordinary man's soul, it is a phenomenal piece of work. I've got no hesitation in giving it a:



  1. Truly a fantastic documentary. If you get the chance, seek out the extended version. That one includes some recent interviews with several of the main figures, including some very interesting words from Prost.

  2. I'll be getting this on DVD release, I can only imagine the kind of material they had to leave out.

  3. PHWOAR. never thought about the DVD release too. Definitely doing that.

    As for the film at the cinema, superb. With Rango, and Submarine it's up there for me so far as film of the year. Oh and Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son...

    well done sir.