31 May 2011

SENNA - (Dir. Asif Kapadia, 2010, UK / France / US)

Brazilian Ayrton Senna won the F1world championship 3 times before his tragic death.

By rejecting many of the current documentary tendencies for the performative and reflexive, Asif Kapadia’s moving celebration of the late Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna confirms the early promise evidenced by his startling debut feature The Warrior. Opting for the poetic mode and constructing a compelling narrative through extensive and elucidating use of archive footage Kapadia succeeds in creating both a visceral journey of Senna’s extraordinary life and an intimate portrait of someone constantly on the precipice of death. Part biopic, the documentary explores the origins of Senna’s passion for the sport and steadily charts his rise to the echelons of Formula One dominance. One of the more fascinating aspects of the narrative is the intense rivalry between Alain Prost and Senna which is depicted as a larger than life battle for egotistical glories. Kapadia is wise to push aside interviews and have friends and colleagues talk over the footage of Senna – this not only keeps us immersed in the gripping nature of such a dangerous sporting spectacle but builds a breathtaking rhythm (complemented by a terrific score by Antonio Pinto) that can only be contained by the tragic ending. In many ways it is somewhat problematic to label this a documentary given the intense narrative and genre elements closely imitate the language of fictional film. Kapadia depicts Senna as an Icarus like figure, demonstrating devotion for the sport that would lead to his inevitable destruction. A Working Title production and a favourite at Sundance, Senna is undoubtedly one of the best films I have seen all year.

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