This review was originally published on January 28, 2011
For those who know little about motor racing, the name Ayrton Senna may not mean much. But for those who paid even the slightest bit of attention to Formula One racing in the 80s or 90s, his name is synonymous with greatness. British filmmaker, Asif Kapadia (Far North) tackled a decade’s worth of footage to tell the story of a young Brazilian man who went on to become a legend in his sport. Thanks to the popularity of Formula One across the world, Kapadia had access to an almost unlimited amount of Senna footage. His races were broadcast all over the world and his charming yet determined personality guaranteed that his interviews were as well.
Getting his start in kart racing, it was clear early on that Senna had the skills to progress into bigger cars, faster speeds, and more dangerous risks. And with these constantly-improving skills, he moved into Formula One by the time he was twenty-four. In the ten years Senna was active, he won forty-one Grand Prix races and three championships. He raced for some of the sport’s most domineering teams and feuded with some of its most gifted racers. And all of it was caught on film.
Composed entirely of archive footage, the film, in a way, allows Senna to tell his own story. He was interviewed before and after each race. Cameras were installed onto his vehicles, allowing access to his POV. All subjects interviewed for the film remain off-screen, only their voices are heard. The cameras followed him through the highs and lows of his career. The story was there for Kapadia and his relentless editors, Chris King and Gregers Sall, to present. All it took was finding the best one hundred and four minutes (out of the roughly eight million minutes spent in his active career). The film works as a sports documentary, a personal biography, and as a retelling of history. Senna is a thorough way to tell the man’s story although, at times, it may lack resonance for non-racing enthusiasts. So much time is spent explaining that Ayrton Senna was one of the best that the film, again, only at times, deemphasize why he was one of the best. Besides his unmatchable skill in the rain, it’s unclear what made him the unstoppable champion that he was. But for any F1 fans, Senna should be a fulfilling film that’s entertaining and informative.