May 5, 2013


Asif Kapadia, 2010

Archival footage fuels this documentary that tells the story of Ayrton Senna, the champion Formula One racer. The film uses a combination of interview footage, in-car camera footage, and news footage to paint a fast-paced, compelling picture. I was guilty of not knowing anything about Senna going into this film, but that only made it better. I am also guilty of not being a fan of racing, but I was on the edge of my seat throughout it. Senna was a talented, humble, reserved figure with a high racing IQ. He was determined to make his mark in the sport, and it didn't take long to do so. Clearly a prodigy-type, he was born to excel at Formula One. I liked the honesty of finding out that Senna came from a privileged background, but never had to make any excuses for himself. He was an intimidating force on the track without having to be an intimidating figure off of it. Some fly-on-the-wall shots of pre-race discussions do a good job of displaying Senna's confidence and ability to assess the conditions of the racetrack. The noticeable sense of animosity from other the other racers really showed Senna's threatening ability.

The method used in making this film is so refreshing. I've never seen a documentary that is made using 100% archival footage, and I'm eager to see more films like this. The wealth of footage provided a perspective that helped to quickly identify with Senna. You literally see the physical evolution of his persona, from a teenage go-kart racer to a confident Formula One racer at the peak of his career. He was not only a racer but an inspiring patriotic figure to poverty-stricken Brazil. The imagery of a nation behind a single figure is quite powerful.

This is a documentary with no faults, at least none that I can think of. Even the soundtrack, done by Antonio Pinto, was perfectly fitting. It was present without being too pronounced and distracting - reminding me of a more ambient Chemical Brothers. This one sat on my Netflix queue for over a year, even after hearing many people raving about it. Wish I had watched it then, but happy I did now.

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