Friday, 8 July 2011

Senna (2011)

Image: Universal Pictures

Formula 1 racing is not something we at Fohnhouse know much about. In fact, we’d even go as far as to say we know next to nothing about it. So it was with somewhat mixed feelings that we went off to watch a documentary about one of the greatest drivers who ever lived. Yes, we’d heard great things, but would it really be able to hold the interest of F1 novices like us?

Well, yes. It absolutely could. Telling the story of Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna from his first Formula 1 race up until his death, it’s a powerful and compelling film. It has two very important assets. The first is the incredible footage that director Asif Kapadia has managed to assemble. There are personal home videos featuring Senna and his family as well as behind the scenes recordings of the driver’s pre-race meetings, giving us a glimpse into the pressures and politics that come with such a high profile and lucrative sport.

The second asset is the subject himself. Senna was not shy about making his feelings known and bemoaned the money and politics that got in the way of making himself a better driver. His primary goal was to keep pushing the boundaries of his talent. He also cared deeply about his national identity and the film makes clear just how deeply his country felt about him. The documentary involves us so deeply with Senna that his triumphs are wonderfully uplifting and his defeats are crushing.

Unfortunately this involvement comes at the expense of any balance. It’s hard to believe that Senna’s rival Alain Prost is quite as evil as the film depicts him here, a scheming cunning man with the President of the racing federation in his back pocket. Meanwhile, Ayrton himself gets a free pass. 

But it’s an utterly compelling documentary that shows us a man who was both outspoken and enigmatic and who was constantly looking for the next challenge. This film makes it clear just why Ayrton Senna is so revered, respected and beloved. 

If you’re an F1 fan, you’ve probably seen this already. If you’re not, we’d urge you to check it out anyway. It may not convert you, but it’ll certainly plunge you into that world for 100 minutes.



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