I had the opportunity this weekend (so did everyone) to watch the Wimbledon final in 3D at my local cinema. I passed it up because I’ve never quite been sure why sports need a big screen, let alone 3D technology. Well, there’s no 3D in Senna but there sure is a big screen and plenty of sports going on (so long as you count Formula One as a sport). The critically acclaimed tale of success and tragedy is as fitting a big screen tribute as any sports documentary is likely to be.
The story of Ayrton Senna is what powers the movie, start to finish. There isn’t time to stop, stare at the ocean and deliberate over whether he was a reckless driver, overly religious or a spoilt rich kid. What we get is Senna’s story, from his origins in Brazilian kart racing, through his three world championship victories, right up to his untimely death at the 1994 San Marino GP. There are no talking heads, no famous faces in their living rooms, just stacks of footage of Senna, in and out of the car, and wistfully reminiscent voiceovers.
Director Asif Kapadia, up until now a narrative filmmaker, has a little bit of fun with the story, setting Alain Prost up as the villain (although his involvement in the film’s production earns him an emotional shot as one of Senna’s pallbearers) of the piece. The film however does not seek to be exclusively about the Senna/Prost rivalry but also show how the man that Senna was affected the man he became behind the wheel. Some of the most touching and sad moments come as the doomed star talks of his hopes and ambitions for the years to come, without knowing how cruelly curtailed they would be.
Ambitious and energetic, this is one of the best sports documentaries of recent years and a must see for motor racing fans.