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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Leaving the cinema after the screening of Senna, the cinephilic
documentary of the Formula One driver tragically killed in the prime of
his career, I knew I had seen something special. It just took a bit of
time to justify, in an articulate manner, just why I had enjoyed it so
much. I was impressed that a modern- day filmmaker (Asif Kapadia) could
so astutely compile a documentary in the same style as that of the
Maysles brothers in Gimme Shelter. But unlike the latter 'rock-doc'
(patent pending), chronicling the events of The Rolling Stones'
infamously ill-fated Altamont concert, Senna focuses not on one key
event, but a tumultuous life driven by a combination of pride, justice
and God-given humility.
Ayrton Senna took the F1 world by storm in the mid-80s, signing on as a member of the McLaren team alongside fellow hot shot Alain Prost. What started out as friendly competition turned into rivalry, and finally mutual hatred. While Prost was well aware of the politics surrounding the sport, taking care to not step on any toes, Senna was in the business only to win. As his career developed, Senna would go on switch teams, driving for Frank Williams and his technologically advanced machines. Unfortunately, Senna's concerns about the safety of his new car would prove correct, resulting in his death on a racetrack in Imola at age 34.
Credit must be given to Kapadia for his extensive use of archive footage, characterising Senna as an incredibly complex, polarising figure. The man is far too humble considering all his achievements. He feels the presence of God during every race, but doesn't have any delusions about the very real possibility of death. It is this personal humility that prevents the film from falling into the trap of becoming self-serving and indulgent, focusing only on the high points of Senna's life. However, he is by no means a 'go-with-the-flow' bohemian. Ayrton is also shown as a fiercely competitive driver who wants nothing to do with insider relations, and who considers the theft of something that is rightfully his to be the greatest dishonour any man can perform.
The selective, highly detailed use of archive footage (the 105 minute final product was whittled down from about 1500 hours of tape) has been edited brilliantly to the point that this, a piece of non-fiction, actually plays out with the drama and intensity of a scripted movie. Because this is Ayrton's story, and no one else's, some of the truth may have been lost in an attempt to give the film more energy, but we cannot be certain. Was Prost really so deceitful and egomaniacal that he would intentionally knock himself and his teammate out of the race to secure the World Championship? Was the reluctance of the Williams team to take Senna's concerns seriously the catalyst for his death? Only one man knows the truth, and he is in no position to divulge the answers.
But speaking of energy, certain scenes have been included purely for audience engagement, not that this is a bad thing. Use of 'helmet-vision' allows us to see exactly what the driver himself faces with every exhilarating corner he turns. Vision of Senna's Grand Prix win in his home country of Brasil and later, the hearse driving him around the streets of Sao Paulo adorned by literally millions of fans carries with it heavy emotional weight. And just like Gimme Shelter, we are exposed to the shocking but incredible on-screen death of a real person.
The film is given a circular theme of sorts, tying the first and last scene together in a poignant retrospective of not just one man's life, but the preciousness of life itself. It avoids every kind of genre cliché, eliminating the use of a narrator, talking heads, lame re-enactments and a slow-paced look at the subject's childhood. But the film's greatest achievement? It had me, a man who has never been an F1 fan by any length, hooked from the opening minute. This may well be the best film not to be nominated for Best Picture this season.
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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One would have thought that the best movie ever made about F1 (this
one) would b full, wall to wall, of filmic pyrotechnics shot in the way
that FIFA commission world cup movies with super saturated, super
slo-mo, super hi-def film set to a super hi-fi sound track.
But it isn't.
And there are two potential reasons for this. The first; artistic in that director, Asif Kapadia and Editor Chris King want it to eschew the flotsam of F1 and capture the essence of the man on a more personal level; the second for storytelling reasons.
I think it's a bit of both because what makes this documentary so successful is it sets out to essentially tell us a right ripping yarn that's not distracted by special effects.
I'm not an F1 buff. I'm about average in terms of my on-off interest in the sport. At the moment Bernie Ecclestone has successfully moved my button firmly to the off position.
So I don't write this through rose tinted spectacles. I comment only as a film lover.
This documentary is set in a golden era where the baddie was not Ecclestone (he barely appears) but the then F1 director. Jean Marie-Balestre, who's almost xenophobic and certainly nepotistic support of fellow Frenchman Alain Prost is a key plot device.
Much of the film follows the central battle for supremacy between "the Professor" Prost and Senna and it's fascinating.
Not once, but twice, were world championships decided on extremely dogy collisions between the two men.
This is discussed in an interview between Jackie Stewart and Senna in which Stewart (possibly the most arrogant Scotsman ever to have set foot on planet earth) challenges the fact that Senna has had more accidents than all of the previous World Champions put together. Perhaps deliberately Senna responds modestly and calls him Stewart (in what looks like a put down that would have stuck in old big heads craw).
But the reason for the question is fundamental to the nature of Senna himself. His sense of invincibility comes from his deep set belief in God, and this core motif is an important insight into the man and his motivation.
God should probably have been credited as a supporting actor role in the film.
What's interesting is that virtually nothing of his private life is discussed in the movie. Not even his brief relationship with, and engagement to, a 15 year old girl. Because this is a film single-mindedly about man, machine and God.
The third reel which deals largely with his death and his legacy is heart rending. The footage leading up to the ill fated moment at Imola in 1994 when God deserts him is so nerve-shredding that you cannot bear to see what is coming. But when you do it is so brief and so brutal that it's gone before you know it. There are no reruns, no slo-mo, no gratuity.
He just dies. And we move on. (Fighting back tears).
Ironically to the sight of Prost as pall bearer as a nation grieves and then, in the credits, we see that Prost is a Trustee of the Senna Foundation.
Ironic or poetic? It's hard to say.
So, no big budget pomp and circumstance, no overblown hero worshiping, just a right good story, well told and gripping from first frame to last.
So, fork out your hard earned cash and visit one of the limited number of cinemas where you can catch this wonderful film in what will almost certainly be a very brief run.
Oh, not once do you hear either Damn Hill or Nigel Mansell utter a single word. Another good reason to go.
I accidentally began watching during the last part of the 1986 F1
season, I was immediately hooked and would set my alarm to watch the
races at 5 am on those Sunday mornings... It was and still is my
church! I wish I had known more about this fantastic human being and
supernatural driver... I have rarely missed a race over the past 25
years. I watched this doc , so riveted, awed, and nervously scared as I
knew the end of the movie was going to be horribly sad. I am not
ashamed to say I cried, Senna was just an amazing human, just as much
as an amazing racer ... Those years in F1, Prost vs Senna were simply
surreal, I wished I had appreciated what I was watching at the time,
but then again 25 years of reflection makes everything clear.
I have no doubt that would have stolen a few of those 7 WDC from Mr Schumacher and would have thrilled us all the while... I can't tell you how heartbroken I am over his loss, the pain of everyone who loved him felt, his entire country's grief, and the fact that too many good people die young while some evil people can live decades beyond their welcome. :(
I cannot say anything bad about this doc except, the ending sucked!
I have to preface this by saying, I don't know anything about Formula
One racing... not a thing. This documentary was so much more than about
a race car driver, it was about a man, that didn't believe in politics,
he believed in himself and God and was a great human being who has to
this day helped millions and millions on under privileged kids.
The pain and suffering this guy went through to do what he loved puts life and it's struggles into perspective... "get busy living or get busy dying... damn right." Most of the other drivers disliked him, because he was the best that ever lived; even the bonehead Jackie Stewart... what a lame guy to pile on when everyone was against, Senna. The people; by the millions loved this man, because he went full speed all of the time and never held back or slowed down.
I don't ever have to watch another driver in Formula One, because I know this guy was the best and will always be the best. He went out at the top of his game, in a God-awful engineered race care. This guy raced peddle to the metal above and beyond anyone who has ever raced or will race again.
For not knowing a thing about Formula One or the man, "Senna" this is a break-through documentary and the best I have ever seen. I have never watched a documentary that made me cry and this one did. Hats off to everyone involved in this film, I feel lucky to have been a part of watching it. Thank you, sincerely.
I am not a F1 fanatic or even fond of cars, I however, am very passionate about high-quality documentaries and this one is the best I have seen so far. It is quite impressive how the narrative flows ever so subtle, and the viewers become completely mesmerized by the incredibly life that this magnificent character led. The documentary not only intimately introduces us to the backstage of the F1 environment, but to his family life. We observe how Ayrton was not only an extraordinary race car driver, but had impeccable moral and ethical values. His story is so heartfelt that you are left thinking about his life long after you've finished watching the documentary. I would personally like to thank all the people who made this movie possible, for it has been a wonderful experience and a memorable one. Bravo!
Just watched this film a couple of hours ago and I enjoyed it
immensely. I laughed, I cried, I enjoyed every second of it. I was due
to watch this with my father but he passed away before we got the
chance to do so. I took his ashes with me though. He would have wanted
to be there. He would have loved this film.
Ayrton Senna wasn't only a fantastic driver but he was a fantastic person as well. He did so much for charity and his foundation still continues to raise money.
I would recommend this film to everyone. You definitely don't have to be a motor sport fan to enjoy this film.
I like the car racing video games very much, but I find it boring to
watch them on TV (not to mention that I hate driving in the real life),
so I was not interested in the Formula 1 races during the '80s, when
they were at the pinnacle of the popularity. However, some friends of
mine LOVED the most important figures from that sport, such as Alain
Prost, Michael Schumacher...and specially Ayrton Senna (1960-1994).
That's where my knowledge about that famous pilot begins and ends, so I
started watching the documentary Senna with low expectations. And even
though it will undoubtedly be more appreciated by the fans of the car
racing sport, I have to admit that the film managed to keep me
On the technical aspect, I found Senna to be a well made and investigated documentary. As I said, my knowledge about Formula 1 is very limited, so I could not say whether director Asif Kapadia was genuinely impartial, or if he took dramatic licenses to make his film more interesting. Anyway, I liked this documentary, even though I have to admit I found it a bit dull when it puts the focus on Senna's personal life. I think that the reason of that is because the narrative thread, which is the pilot's obsession to triumph in the tracks, gets lost on those moments.
As I previously said, Senna is a documentary which will be mostly appreciated by the fans of the car races. I was left with the impression that Kapadia did not want to make more people fan of the Formula 1, so he does not spend any time describing the organization of the sport (What's the difference between Grand Prix and Championship?), nor explaining its rules (for example, there is a debate about "cones against wheels" I did not understand at all). However, I have to admit that despite my apathy for the sport, I had good time watching Senna, and it left me moderately satisfied.
A worthy documentary style montage of Senna's F1 career with just few things strangely left out, 'Little Senna', and definitely not enough Murray Walker or crashes that the medium of cinema deserves! The atmospheric element of high speed racing is captured wonderfully by the on board video from the drivers cockpits edge. When this is edited with the external broadcast images it makes for compelling viewing, especially as we build up to the known climatic ending. The Prost / Senna rivalry was an essential part of Senna's career story line and its neatly spliced together with the racing action, action that is not the main part of the imagery. Surprisingly this doesn't detract the film from being a story of a racing drivers tragically short career.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Based purely on the subject matter, being an avid amateur Formula One
historian, especially with regards to Senna, I guess I know too much
about the subject matter to not overlook the flaws, omissions, and half
So I started to judge it as a pure documentary film, and I was not sure what the aim and purpose of the film actually was. It wasn't to tell of the life story of Ayrton Senna, as the narrative rarely ventured outside the world of Formula One. Despite the marketing media, it wasn't about why Ayrton Senna is regarded by many as the greatest driver that ever lived, as there was not discussion about his relative merits compared against other greats. It certainly wasn't an impartial account of Ayrton's time in F1, as there were only one moment of criticism (other than those from the villains of the piece, Prost (unfairly portrayed here) and Balestre) which came from Sir Jackie Stewart, which was never explored once Ayrton's gave his weak rebuttal. Furthermore, I felt the film lost its way after the rivalry with Alain Prost lost its intensity and it couldn't get to the end fast enough.
A good evening's entertainment, but one that I don't think would have been diminished had I seen it on TV as an hour special on the 3 year rivalry between Senna and Prost, which is when the film was at it's strongest, in my opinion.
I enjoyed the film, but the attention to detail that made Senna such a
force in F1 was, ironically, lacking in the documentary. For instance,
given that people who see this film will probably quite like cars and
motorsport and know a little about them, didn't the director think that
the overlaid soundtrack of engine noises should synchronise with the
images? I can't think of anything more irritating that being on-board
with the greatest driver of all time, only to see that his acceleration
and braking and gear changing are not in-synch with the engine sound.
Someone has pinched random snippets of sound (from the wrong type of
car) and overlaid them onto Senna's car.
Worth seeing, but not a work worthy of 9/10 as others have voted.
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