Monday 13 June 2011


(Asif Kapadia, 2010)

Prior to seeing Senna, and with absolutely no interest in Formula One, I struggled to understand how an arresting documentary could be made on the life of a Racecar Driver. Well, Kapadia tackles that head-on (no tasteless pun intended) by plunging the viewer almost directly into Senna's career in F1 with only the barest of preambles. In what serves as a brief prologue, we see him as a go kart racer, leaving Brazil, and then he is a young and inexperienced F1 driver, and we are in. Soon he is winning his first Grand Prix in spectacular style, challenging Alain Prost and making his name. The ease of the storytelling is perhaps the films great glory; KapadIa brilliantly uses his archive footage, finding its cinematic quality by recontextualising it, or slowing down a moment of stark, previously unnoticed beauty, or editing cleverly so that it is by turnsviually beautiful, thrilling and telling.
Chiefly of course, it always advances the story. And that story is a very human one, of a charismatic, mysterious young man who was driven always to try and excel, who came from privilege, believed passionately in God, yet drove a car as if he saw himself as immortal. Along the way, his rivalry with Prost takes over for a while, and their contrasting characters and approaches makes for a riveting documentary. Kapadia strips away the technical jargon and mechanical explanations of racing to focus on two things that can not change; competition and speed. The people in the film are all aware of the presence of these forces, and footage like the several incredible in-cockpit scenes make speed a visceral character in the film, something Senna attacks remorselessly until it finally kills him.
The interviews are sensitively intercut, the ending nicely-judged.

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