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3/26/2012

Senna reviewed

A man and his car. A rain-soaked race track. Calm hands, moving the steering wheel of the Toleman TG 184, navigating it in perfect accordance with the specifications of the extremely narrow circuit.

It is the Monaco Grand Prix in 1984, Ayrton Senna's first Formula One street race, and iconic for a number of reasons, but mainly, because Senna, the rookie, managed to catch up to his later nemesis Alain Prost, and even passed Niki Lauda for second, despite being in a less competitive car and starting from "unlucky" position 13.

It's the prologue to the documentary film Senna (2010), directed by Asif Kapadia (The Sheep Thief, The Warrior). You may wonder, I do so myself to be honest with you, how it happened, that I, a woman with no interest in sporting activities whatsoever, Carpal tunneling my way in front of the Playstation as exercise, managed to be smitten with a sports documentary, a ferocious sport at that, with a high likelihood of contestants eventually crashing, burning and dying (not naturally in that order) after driving in circles for hours.

The most important characteristic of Senna is, that it is not as much a canticle to racing, as it is a well directed character piece about a very complex, inconsistent man. The documentary portrays Senna as a devout person, quietly determined, even noble offside the tracks, and yet quick tempered, delusional and ruthless when things didn't go his way as to the standards of the competition.




The film consists of both family home videos, interviews with friends and family, and archive footage of races Senna participated in, including spectacular onboard recordings from Formula One. With so much video material at his disposal, Kapadia as good as traced Senna's whole life, from his early beginnings with go-cart racing to the heights of his success in F1, capturing those frosty moments of conflict behind the scenes as well, especially with French FIA president Jean-Marie Balestre. The Soundtrack is alert, in short pursuit, oppressive and haunting, and well attuned to the moving pictures - and the editing hands of Chris King did nothing short of brilliant work, underscoring the pieces of a tumultuous life.





I think it's one of those rare documentaries, that manages to combine both, the spectacle of a dangerous sport, with the consistency of a firm narrative, creating a moving portrayal, both mentally, and physically moving the audience forwards, towards the inevitable end, Senna's fatal accident in 1994 on the Imola circuit.

I would recommend this remarkable documentary, especially to an audience who isn't already a fan of the Golden Age of Formula One. Senna's story is a moving, dramatic tribute to a man and his passion, a fast-paced lifestyle, the ever-present frenzy for success, and the complete incapacity to untie from the addictive threads of danger.