Sometimes you’ll see a movie and you’re left wondering “where have those 100 minutes have just gone?”. This was certainly the case with Senna, the archive footage documentary charting the meteoric rise and eventual tragic death of the legendary Formula 1 racing driver, Aryton Senna.
In a stroke of genius from the filmmakers, the fabric of this movie relies solely on archive footage; interviews, racing footage, helmet-cams, home videos, etc, which are all stitched together with an occasional voice over from his family, friends and colleagues. This technique is a fantastic way to take focus away from the sport of Formula 1 racing, and rather create a filmic obituary that celebrates Senna’s achievements as a man as well as a sports icon.
One of the greatest aspects of this documentary is that it is such an engaging story. We see the constant battle for supremacy between Senna and his teammate, Alain Prost; the relationship Senna has with his fans, especially in Brazil; the faith Senna puts in God to protect him from danger; and the touching moments between his family, and the F1 doctor, Sid Watkins. Each of these little narratives features throughout the movie, and there is a finite character arc for Senna; you see him develop from a talented but raw teenager to a 3-time World Champion genius of the sport, yet the movie never resorts to how fast the cars are going or how much money is involved.
There are so many films released each year that try to create a world in which we are supposed to believe a character, their motivations, and suspend our disbelief only to be let down by cloying resolutions or farcical narrative tributaries. Here, we have a documentary about a man that rose to the top of his game and was tragically struck down far before his time. It’s honest, funny at times, tragic at others, and shows that there are some stories about which you many think you have no interest, but that can teach you more about what it is to be human than you’ll ever have believed.
I’m old enough to remember watching the race in which Senna died, but I was young enough to not understand the impact he had on the sport of F1, as well as the world around him. If you don’t know the story, don’t go to Wikipedia, watch this movie. If you’re in the UK and have a LoveFilm account, it’s just been added to Instant.