Films about motorsport are neither common nor popular, with it not really being appreciated as a sub-genre of sport. Infact, sports movies themselves don’t really get a look-in with only one a year at most capturing the praise that comes with a brilliant piece of film. 2011’s top sports film, top documentary and overall top film, is Senna.
Senna tells the story of legendary Brazillian F1 champion Ayrton Senna. He was one of a select few drivers who genuinely cared about the sport, driving purely for the passion he held for racing. It charts his progress as a young star dominating the karting circuits of Brazil and then Europe, before eventually moving onto the elite group of drivers who raced in Formula 1.
The film relies on archived footage taken from the 80’s and 90’s when Senna was in his prime. The on-board camera footage shows the raw strength of the turbo-charged beasts of those years, with the view wildly wobbling around from side to side. On the street circuit of Monaco in particular, the race where he really showed his talents, almost pipping future rival to the race win, the camera shows the man’s talent, with him taking corners one-handed!
The film itself isn’t a normal documentary either: it has a flowing narrative which tells an audience everything they’d need to know about the man. All the way from his personal life, to his family, to the charity work and the driving. The driving is obviously the main attraction, but non-racing fans need not worry, as the story focuses most of all on Senna the man, rather than Senna the driver. He comes across as a compassionate, honest and determined man, who would do anything to achieve victory, or the best, in anything that he competes in. Also, it varies drastically from a normal documentary as the Alain Prost vs Senna rivalry is exaggerated for the big screen, with Prost being depicted as the villain against Senna’s hero. It’s a nice, familiar device that entices those who were aware and unaware of the battle as it happened back int he late 80’s/early 90’s.
Another brilliant device used by the film is the climax to every season, which back then was the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. The on-screen graphics appear with the respective year, and no matter how many times this happens, the audience know they’re in for something special! Controversy comes from both men on various occasions, but I won’t ruin it for you. The various contributions from American, Brazilian, French and British (Murray Walker!) commentators, help to drive the story onward, adding their own expertise to the mix, giving as much information as possible for the audience to make their own mind up. The extra, unseen footage, from drivers meetings to the Senna family home videos, are a real treat for dedicated F1 fans, as they provide further insight, and add a lot towards the image of the man himself. He was the most vocal of all the drivers at the time, daring to speak out to protect himself and others, and seemed to genuinely care about the people of his home nation, Brazil.
For the F1 fans, who know what happened to the man, the inevitable end is a bit demoralising, knowing that the tale has to come to such an abrupt end, as so much of the story makes him appear as such a full-rounded, genuine person, it’s saddening. However, if you go into the film not knowing what the end holds, then keep it that way, it really adds a lot more drama and emotional weight to the film itself. The on-screen credits tell a damning fact, that really strikes home how Formula 1 has developed as a sport, since the event 17 years ago. The mood is low at the end, but before everyone shuffled out of the cinema, the credits showed yet more happy highlights of the legend’s career and more home videos, it was a great idea to do this, as it lightens everyone, and provides more of a positive ending to the film.
So, as I said, this isn’t your normal documentary, it’s not your normal sports film, it’s a story about one special man, who was as vital on the track, as he was off it, to F1, his family and the people of Brazil. Senna is brilliant.