Aryton Senna: Formula 1 champion, sex symbol, Brazilian hero and global icon. 16 years after his tragic death on the race track, director Asif Kapadia (of indie drama Far North acclaim) has searched through 1000s of hours of news footage, TV interviews and Youtube videos. Initially creating a 5 hour film, the footage has been compressed into a highly enjoyable way to spend 1 hour 45 minutes. The documentary is a fascinating insight into the intimate story of Aryton which parallels with his legacy as an F1 driver.
From the roots of his moderately privileged beginnings as a go kart racer, the bulk of the film follows his notorious rivalry with 4 time champion Alain Prost. Perhaps unfairly, Prost is portrayed as the villain of the story, along with the corruption within the FIA, constantly trying to attack Senna’s career. However, this never feels like a simple story of a hero and a villain; Kapadia doesn’t provide the audience with clear cut answers regarding Senna’s 6 month ban and various other incidents, but this isn’t a failure of the film, rather staying truthful to the ambiguous true story. Perhaps the most intimate moments of the film are the private family videos of Senna relaxing. Although his attitude can occasionally seem immodest, Senna, the character, remains a down-to-earth Brazilian at heart. His commitment to helping underprivileged children living in the poorest areas of his homeland and the importance of winning the Brazil Grand Prix display just how much he cared about his country (again, a parallel between his personal convictions and his racing career).
There isn’t a single piece of footage which feels out of place or unrepresentative, nor does the editing ever feel sluggish or compromised. Senna’s religious beliefs crop up perhaps twice as often as they should (hearing his absolute faith in God once is enough) and, naturally, by using commentary instead of interview footage, it can be unclear at times who is speaking given the number of narrators.
Senna is a fascinating insightful journey into the short life of a man so talented, yet almost always selfless and compassionate, but it is also an adrenaline fuelled compilation of the races of Brazil’s fastest man ever. Catch it while you can.