It’s been months since I went to see Senna, but the point of this blog is for me to keep a track of the films I’ve seen this year so I can remember my thoughts on them.
I’m not sure why I never wrote the Senna review around the time I saw it, especially considering I enjoyed it so much, but it’s better late than never, I suppose.
What’s The Film About?
Using a combination of TV interviews, race footage, behind the scenes stuff, home videos and specially recorded interviews from those who knew him, Senna is a documentary charting the career of the Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna from his early days as a kart racer in Brazil up until his tragic death during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
Much of the film is spend focussing on his legendary rivalry with fellow driver and team mate Alain Prost.
I suppose the potential viewers of this film will fall into two pretty distinct camps – those who are interested in Formula One, and those who aren’t.
I’m not a Formula One fan at all, and my knowledge of Senna going into this film was that he died during that Grand Prix and that a fellow driver actually died the day before during the qualifying.
Beyond that, I knew very little about him and absolutely nothing about his rivalry with Prost.
But I actually think that aided my enjoyment of the film. That’s not really a surprise though, otherwise it’s a bit like going to a film that you already knew the plot of.
Well anyway, what I thought was so good about this film was the way all the footage comes together. With most documentaries it relies upon a narrator to fill in the gaps, but there’s no need for that here. Everything flows together so well that it’s as if Senna’s entire life during his career is captured on film. There’s never going to be a demand for a biopic of his life because this is it – only he’s playing himself.
If I was going to criticise the film for anything it would be for parts of the tone. I know it’s a film about Senna and that he’s going to be portrayed in the best light possible, and though I don’t really know anything about their rivalry, I couldn’t help but think that Alain Prost was presented as the villain of the piece. It seemed a very black and white rivalry whereas I imagine the truth lay somewhere in the middle.
Senna himself was an interesting character, but to be as successful as he was, the chances are he’d have to have been a bit of a prick. This does come through a bit, but in the case of the Prost rivalry, it does seem a bit one sided.
The other part of the tone that I would take exception to is that the film heavily implies that the nation of Brazil had no-one else to look up to other than Senna, and that he was a beacon of light during a dark time for the Brazilian nation. But what about the Brazilian football team? It’s not as if they were bad during the 80s or early 90s, is it?
In terms of the footage used in the film, I was most interested with the behind the scenes stuff, like the drivers meetings and the raw footage of the reactions to events post-race. If the film had just stuck to footage of the races and TV interviews it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as complete, honest or absorbing.
Finally, what I gathered from this film was that Formula One was more interesting and more of an actual sport during Senna’s time. In his final year, it was a time of change with the constructors changing things like adding automatic traction control etc – i.e. taking away some of the driving skill. Indeed, Senna himself – a man who won so many championships with his risk-taking and understanding of the how to control a car – appeared to be badly slipping as a driver in his final year because the new cars negated his talents. In fact, his struggles with his new car very much contributed to the accident that caused his untimely death.
Maybe I’m wrong, but it seemed like the sport was better back in his day than it is now.
Should You Watch Senna?
Absolutely. As I say, I’m not a fan of F1 in any way, and I loved this film. Don’t let that be a barrier to entry for you.
I used the word ‘absorbing’ above, and I would say that sums this film up perfectly. The cinema version I saw was the 106 minute cut and it just flew by. There’s a 162 minute version available on DVD and I wouldn’t hesitate to give that a go either.
Senna is a film that anyone could enjoy and that everyone should watch.