Senna – Review
June 25, 2011 2 Comments
Directed by Asif Kapadia. Starring Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Frank Williams
As a proper moviegeek, my interest in sport in general is very limited and when it comes to Formula 1 my ignorance is even greater. I can’t really tell a Ferrari from a McLaren, nor I would be able to tell you anything about pole positions, paddocks or sidepods (In fact I had to look up these words!). Not only that, but up until the other day I didn’t even know Senna was Brazilian nor I was 100% about his fate… You get the idea…
And yet, none of this mattered while watching this documentary. In fact, the film is a real piece of bravura in story-telling and emotion-stirring and if it managed to grab the attention of somebody like me (ignorant to the bone) it must surely mean something!
One of the reasons why it works so well is because it’s essentially a film about human emotions, real people, politics, corruption, obsessions and goes way beyond the boring technical details of a car race.
Ayrton Senna is depicted as an incredibly determined man. He’s strong, religious, sincere, funny and even cheeky… Well, at least that’s how he is depicted to us by film-makers who are clearly quite keen in making sure we like him. The use of archive footage, especially during the first half of the film, is always carefully selected and edited to show us a rather sweet, sincere, honest and innocent image of this Brazilian hero.
It is obviously quite a bias version of Senna’s character and his family must have certainly been involved behind the scenes (as it’s clear from the use of private home footage and interviews with close relatives). However none of this really matters and certainly doesn’t take anything away from the fact that these are compelling stories and beautifully told.
On a technical level the film looks really terrible. Of course none of it is not its fault and I’m certainly not blaming it for that, but it’s a reminder of how bad videos from the 80s were. And yet instead of avoiding the problem or trying to hide it, director AsifKapadia, recognizing some of the real gems at his disposal, decides to embrace it and sticks with it all the way through the film. He even avoids cutting away to the so-called “talking heads” of the people who are being interviewed and instead he only uses their voices over the ugly-looking footage. By doing this he forces us to watch the images, focussing our attention and getting us even closer to his hero. In fact about 10 minutes into the documentary you actually forget to even care about how bad it all looks… which is, once again a proof of the strength of this film.
It is a great achievement of editing too as the film manages to tell quite a complicated story or corruption, antagonism, determination, obsessions and human emotions without the use of any external commentary, but just with archive footage and few interviews. And it’s not just all very clear, but it’s also succeeds in being both funny and moving.
I’m not quite sure how it would play to somebody who knows anything about Senna, but I certainly bough it up completely.
If I have one complain it has to be with the ending (which for the people who are as ignorant as me, I won’t give away), as it felt quite heavy-handed (I’m referring to the use of music, the over-stretched final sequences and the slightly gratuitous flash-backs): it obviously works (in fact I was a real wreck by the end of it), but it is one of those occasions where the hand of the film-makers was way too visible.
Other than that, this is clearly a labour of love, made by a very competent film-maker who knows how to tell a story and grab his audience’s attention, even the ones who are clearly not interested.