• Mar 21, 2011
Three of the qualities that Senna brought to F1: massive talent in good conditions that became ethereal talent in the wet; total devotion to winning; and an intimate connection to God.
It would be a challenge to contain the full and complete life of even a moderately interesting man in just 104 cinematic minutes. If a man has lived in more than two cities, held more than three jobs and dated more than four women, the gift of that man's life probably can't be wrapped in an hour and four minutes of celluloid. Those paltry numbers don't even form any kind of template: Franz Kafka didn't merely spend almost all of his life in Prague, he spent almost all of it living in his parents' house and working a single job. Good luck fitting his tale into just 6,240 seconds.

So how, then, is one to condense the days of Ayrton Senna da Silva, the Formula One pilot whose talent ignited observers, whose turmoil ignited ratings, and whose love for his country ignited Brazil itself? Director Asif Kapadia attempts it in Senna, and while it could not do everything, what it does reveal about dreaming and stubbornness and tenacity and fallibility and talent and death is something you will certainly wish to see.

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Distilled from 15,000 hours of archival footage, Senna is less the story the man's time in F1 than it is a plot: What F1 stops did the genteel boy of 20 make to get from Santana, Brazil in 1981 to a left-hand sweeper in Italy called Tamburello in 1994? What story there is serves to highlight Kapadia's choices of Senna's most compelling moments: Monaco in '84 and '86, Japan in '88, Brazil in '91, saying of Prost, "This Frenchman is hard, he wants war." They are aided by voiceovers from those who knew him: his mother and sister, commentators like Reginaldo Leme, John Bisigani, a young(er) Bob Varsha and Dr. Sid Watkins, among others.

Both plot and story, though, showcase three of the qualities that Senna brought to F1: massive talent in good conditions that became ethereal talent in the wet; total devotion to winning; and an intimate connection to God.

As for talent, it wouldn't be far off to say that the Toleman team is best (if not only) remembered for being Senna's entry into F1 in 1984. Toleman's TG183B and TG184 chassis' were turned by Senna into machines capable of passing World Champions like Niki Lauda, Keke Rosberg and James Hunt, and chasing down Alain Prost at a clip of three seconds per lap in the wet at Monaco.

Ayrton Senna documentary film
Senna alights at this and other familiar stops in Ayrton's early career: Portugal in 1985, Senna's first pole and victory in the wet driving a Lotus, having lapped all but one other car. Monaco in 1988, with Senna in rapturous form – the race was his, if not for him crashing after being told to slow down, only to lose focus. Japan that same year, when he balked on the grid and slipped to 14th, then regained first place after the rains came.

Yet those common ports of call in Ayrton's story are punctuated by God: Senna proclaiming "God gave me this chance" when he was signed to Toleman, saying he was "closer to God" after crashing out of Monaco, and saying of his come-from-way-behind victory in Japan, "I felt his presence, I saw God, he remains a part of me."

And not that there is any lack of it, but these moments are further backed by the thrill of his talent: it is just one of many such moments, but the onboard footage of him driving the McLaren MP4/4 around Monaco – hand on the gearshift and rowing through cogs – when he described the entire track as being a tunnel, is spectacular.

Ayrton Senna documentary film

It is that latter year, 1988, the first year of Senna's partnership with Prost at McLaren and the capture of his first World Championship, that the film takes more time for the story of the man, what he had become and what others thought of it. Prost disparages, but only after asserting that "he didn't want to just beat me, he wanted to humiliate me." Senna's mother, Neyda, said Senna promised early in his career to stop driving after he won the World Championship.

Jean-Marie Balestre, head of the FIA, not only asserted himself but always seemed to be doing it to the assistance of Prost and the detriment of Senna, Senna explaining repeatedly and in every way that "motor racing is my life," that winning was the only point of it, and that it was all he wished to do.

And the people of Brazil, still working their volatile way through a teethings of a new civilian republic, had in Senna – and his helmet in the national colors and his flag-waving ritual after every victory – a piece of Brazil they were proud to show the world: "He shares his victories with us," and "He raises the image of Brazil abroad," and "Here's a guy who waves the flag for good reasons," and "He's the only good thing about Brazil."

Ayrton Senna documentary film

And it is after Senna's second World Championship in that the film begins to turn to mortality and fatality; yet in spite of Prost's opinion that Senna "thinks he can't be hurt," it was Senna who said "I am as scared as anyone of getting hurt," Senna who walked to the spot of Martin Donnelly's crash in 1990 to remind himself of the dangers of racing, and Senna who, after crashing in qualifying for the Mexico Grand Prix in 1991, asked for changes to the tire barriers to make runoff safer.

Obviously, none of those fears prevented what happened at the Italian Grand Prix in 1994. It is the only part of the film we don't think was handled as deftly as the rest, which is excusable – with enough gloom in a single weekend for an entire season, it easily overcomes.

Ayrton Senna documentary film

No matter: it is the film, and the man himself, that overcome. A mourner at his funeral, practically an affair of state, said, "He represented the best of Brazil." In actuality he, and Senna, represent much more than even that. See it.


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  • 32 Comments
      • 3 Years Ago
      Brilliant movie.
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      • 3 Years Ago
      I just hope that this plays at a theater in DC. I doubt it but I can hope....
        • 3 Years Ago
        I've heard rumors that Landmark in Bethesda might be showing it. Confirm/deny anyone?
        • 3 Years Ago
        I'll see you there if so.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Okay, ye reporters with connections, you have to tell us when, if ever, it will be released in the US. The internet is suspiciously void of a date, but you have to know something. Throw us a bone.
        • 3 Years Ago
        *devoid
        • 3 Years Ago
        Yeah seriously, would it kill the writer to give us a link or something? "See it." But I won't tell you how... hur hur.
      • 3 Years Ago
      can't wait to see this film.

      note: 104 minutes is 1 hour and 44 minutes, not 4 minutes.
      • 3 Years Ago
      See it... where, exactly?
        • 3 Years Ago
        This is what I'd love to know as well. I've been following this thing for months and still have no idea where/when i'll be able to see it.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I was released in Japan on the 11th, and can be purchased on amazon.jp if you have someone to translate...
      • 3 Years Ago
      "Intimate connection to god"? Please.

      That said, I'll still be watching this the first chance I can, even if I don't buy into the Senna hype like most. He was great, but there have been others just as great if not more so. Senna is put on an untouchable pedastal in no small part due to the circumstances of his demise, and that's a shame.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Throwback,

        Schumacher was racing in F1 and was on the track with Senna since back in 91 only then the German wasn't important.

        He merely stood in for other drivers and was on his debut whereas Senna was at the height of his career.
        • 3 Years Ago
        fail
      • 3 Years Ago
      did anyone find a site that showed where it is playing maybe in the SE us? senna is the star who got me into formula one and into cars (I am Brazilian) if anyone has this information or a website would be awesome to share
      • 3 Years Ago
      "See it."

      I like that ending. I can not wait to see that movie.
      • 3 Years Ago
      happy 51st B-day Senna RIP
      • 3 Years Ago
      Senna... the legend forever remains in our racing hearts.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Schumi was the reason I started watching F1. But, Senna gave me enough reasons to give real respect to the racing car drivers. 20th century race car drivers were no less brave than the WW2 pilots,if not equal. No doubt Jezza 'powerrrr' Clarkson calls him crazy in one TG episode.

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