I've never been a fan of racing. Whether it's NASCAR or Formula One, I've never understood the appeal. The suspense isn't there for me, the only entertaining aspect being the crashes. And when the best part about a "sport" is when something goes horribly wrong, that's a problem. Somehow, though, the documentary Senna, about Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna, has convinced me to appreciate the sport just a little more.
Senna is also one of the best documentaries of the year.
Ayrton Senna rose in prominence in the 1980's, quickly establishing himself as one of the fastest, and at times riskiest, drivers to ever grace the sport. Brazil, which at the time was struggling even more with poverty and other problems than they are today, embraced its hero wholeheartedly, especially as he dominated the sport by winning three F1 world champions.
Senna also died tragically doing what he loved.
Relying completely on stock footage (thankfully, car racing is a sport with lots of video evidence), Kapadia paints a very realized picture of Senna, establishing his personality, his will to drive, his competitive nature and pride. Interspersed with interviews with his friends and teammates, Senna is a surprisingly engaging and detailed documentary that recaptures the magic of many of his biggest races and explains how important Senna was to his home country.
Kapadia's finest work comes in the film's 20 minutes, as he begins to foreshadow Senna's impending death. While most of the documentary is as fast paced as the cars featured within, Kapadia shifts to a lower gear, slowing things down just enough to highlight Senna's fears and concerns about the upcoming race. It's in these final minutes that you realize just how well Kapadia has gotten inside the driver's head, and that he has been there since the beginning.
Senna is an alluring documentary that is worth seeing, even for people who have no interest in Formula One racing. It's a fine specimen from Kapadia and his crew, a superbly made film that defies its subject matter.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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