The need for speed – Senna review

Senna – Directed by Asif Kapadia. Rated M. Originally published July 23, 2011. By Simon Miraudo.

This review was first run during the Melbourne International Film Festival. Senna is now screening nationally.

Asif Kapadia’s documentary on the life and early death of F1 racer Ayrton Senna – a man and sport, I admit, I knew nothing about before attending the screening – is a stirring and spectacular achievement. As an engaging film, it finds the human drama and narrative drive (pun!) in his rivalry with fellow racer Alain Prost. As a car movie, it leaves Fast Five (et al) in the dust; the helmet-cam sequences of three-time world champion Senna expertly navigating the track are electrifying, and more befitting of 3-D conversion than anything in Transformers. As a document of a man’s life, it’s deeply affecting. Kapadia stands back; he compiles enough archive footage of the legend, the supporting characters in his life, and the major events of his career, to almost make it seem as if this is the world’s greatest and most believable re-enactment. As a document of life in general, it’s freakishly astute. We don’t learn much about Senna as a young man, his private life, or why he even got into racing. But we understand who he is, and believe him when he says he needs to race, and that quitting is never an option.

Senna isn’t just about Senna; it’s about what drives (yes, yes, pun again intended) us to do the things we do, sometimes beyond all reason. Although Ayrton’s fatal crash at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix is never mentioned or alluded to prior to its occurrence in the film, the spectre of death looms large over proceedings. Even Senna seems to recognise that his fate is written in the stars as he approaches his doomed race. Kapadia neither tries to brighten the mood with a cheap finale, or attempt to jerk tears with overwrought melodrama (I still succumbed). Although that ominous sense of dread is ever present, it’s overshadowed by the voracious central character at the film’s core. His is a compelling and human story, albeit a tragic one. There’s no need for it to be sugar-coated for it to remain inspiring.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Senna is now showing in Australian cinemas.

One Response to “The need for speed – Senna review”

  1. I loved it, even though it made me cry. He had such a spirit to him

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