Senna (2011, Asif Kapadia)
With the full cooperation of Ayrton Senna’s family and Formula One Management, Asif Kapadia’s Senna traces the legend’s monumental career from go-karting to an F1 world sensation, and then his fatal crash in May 1994. Through archive footage ranging from family videos to televised races, this brilliant documentary shows both Senna’s spiritual and physical journey to becoming 3-time World Champion, and the legacy he left behind.
On the surface, Senna appears to be your stereotypical sports documentary. However, underneath it’s a film that immerses the audience in Ayrton Senna’s own obsession and emotional twists during his unfortunately short career. Through remarkable images and footage we see his successes, regrets and even anxiety towards his vocation and aspirations. A great deal of credit has to go to Kapadia and his editing team for their fluent construction of the documentary. With a wealth of video sources it manages to have enough variety to remain engrossing, allowing the footage to tell the story without the need of any narration. It’s a very clean and masterfully crafted film with a powerful and grippingly personality. Senna doesn’t attempt to become a film that showcases or advertises the sport, remaining very accessible to audiences who aren’t fans of F1. Nevertheless, the film manages to illustrate the emotions, the passion and the justification for why many have an affinity for the sport, and to Senna’s story. Antonio Pinto’s soundtrack is a perfect accompaniment to the film’s fast-paced nature and the emotional ‘human’ drama. Senna is not only an accomplished documentary, but one of this year’s best films.
Dealing with a ‘hero’ in F1 Motor Racing, there is undoubtably a bias towards the portrayal of certain individuals, most notably Alain Prost. The prominent rivalry between the two racers is a particular focus of the story. However, Prost is shown as the cartoonish ‘bad guy’, which understates his own triumphs as 4-time World Champion. These don’t necessarily hurt the film, but they are unfortunate side-effects of Kapadia’s reluctance to explore Senna’s darker side. Apart from this, its a near perfect documentary.
Constructed from archived footage, Universal have refrained from tampering with the original clips through computers and graphics. Therefore, there’s still that historical authenticity even when the footage hasn’t aged dramatically. It isn’t a film that showcases true high definition, but it still looks great. Meanwhile the audio quality is fantastic with interviews sounding crisp and clear. The iconic and exhilarating sounds of F1 result in an intense experience and a joy to the ears.
There’s a very healthy selection of extras. Both the ‘Theatrical’ cut, which is the more well-rounded version, and the ‘Extended’ cut are present. An extensive commentary track from director Asif Kapadia and various members of the production, exploring the ‘behind-the-scenes’ aspects of the film, is genuinely interesting. Interviews with the likes of Richard Williams and John Bisignano that were conducted for the film, are also available to watch. Senna’s home videos and the ‘Lost’ Radio interview with Gerald Donaldson are also included and really give further insight into his life.