Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Film Review - Senna

I think I am a member of the last generation to come through who actually watched Ayrton Senna race. I was fourteen years old when he died. I remember my dad calling him a cheating bastard when he and Alain Prost collided to give Senna the Championship that year. I remember that I always wanted Mansell to win over Senna (obviously, being British). But I realise, having watched this wonderful film, that I never ever knew Ayrton Senna as a person and a racing car driver as opposed to a caricature.

Senna is a beautifully shot film - utilising a documentary style - of the famous racing driver's brief stint in the limelight. It tells the story from when he crashed out in Monaco in 1984 to the final moments of his life in 1994. The whole film uses archive footage, with subtitles and voiceovers, rather than any "talking heads" and interviews, and I believe this to be one of the strengths of the films - one of the aspects of it that draws you in.

And this is a truly absorbing film. I have little interest in Formula 1, if I'm honest. I follow it enough to know a few of the names each season. I tend to know who has won the most recent Championship (especially if they're a GBR driver, as has been the case recently). But, when it comes to driving, I prefer two wheels to four - and have a rather large crush on one Valentino Rossi.

Despite all of this, Senna won me over entirely. From the rather blurry in-car footage, to the family home videos, we are shown the character of Senna. And what a character! Sometimes explosively argumentative, flirtatious with the ladies, concerned for his fellow drivers in the event of accidents (to the point where he pulls his car over during qualifying to go to attend to someone who has crashed) - the man Senna is presented during this film as someone worth knowing. Religious, bolshy, sometimes shy, but never less than utterly charismatic - my eyes never left his face.

One of the central aspects of Senna is the high tension relationship between him and Alain Prost. Their virulent battles both on and off track were documented fairly, showing that errors were made by each man. We are used to knowing about various rivalries in sport, but I think this one was by far the most controversial and dangerous - not least of which because they were both driving the fastest cars around at the time.

And this film does not shy away from the very dangerous side of the sport. There are some crashes documented, but done in such a way that you never feel the director was glorifying that part of the sport. Instead they are massively tragic accidents.

There is a tension and continual propulsion to the film, driving towards its inevitable end. And yet the impact of that last race, and of the horrifying consequences, still left me utterly moved and with tears in my eyes. That is the power of this film.

I think that Senna is receiving a limited run in cinemas, because of the specialised nature of the film, so I would urge you to go now to see it. It is worth the big screen experience, and it is definitely worth a viewing. Even those with little interest in Formula 1 will find much to enjoy. This film was mesmerising and poignant, and gives a fitting memorial to that most mercurial of sports personalities, Ayrton Senna.

1 comment:

  1. I am certainly subjective, but there is no race pilot like Ayrton Senna. He was and still the best. I used to watch Formula 1, but mainly because of him. I watched after his death too, but only for a short while. As much as Schumacher won title after title he could not match the magic of Senna.
    You know what made me love him in the first place. The incident when "the cheating bastard" took Prost out of the race. I would have done the same, considering that in the previous year Alain Prost deliberately took Senna's car out of the race just to win the World Title. But not only that. I loved him because Ayrton Senna had heart, passion and dedication. I also remember a race at Monaco when he was carried on the arms because he could not walk after a exceptional race. He was a great sportsman.
    I miss his races!