Sunday, 21 August 2011


A documentary about a Brazilian Formula 1 World Champion - surely just for aficionados? NO. Although there is almost no frame that fails to contain a racing track or racing car, this film offers an intimate engagement with a charismatic and obsessed genius. This is a film about a man who on one level is an ordinary guy and on another just happens to be the fastest man on the planet.

The film uses archive footage and overlays it with commentary, news reports and interviews to produce a compelling documentary of Senna's F1 career. The way this film is edited presents a masterclass in the art. It reveals someone who was uniquely gifted as a racing driver and a man who established a spiritual connection between his craft and his faith. For Senna, racing cars was the vocational fulfilment of the reason he'd been put on the planet.

The film appears to be objective in the way it portrays Senna's life. It exposes the political maneuvering of the sports governing body the FIA and in particular the seemingly collusive relationship between driver Alain Prost and FIA President Jean-Marie Balestre. This appeared to generate one interpretation of the regulations for everyone else and a tougher interpretation for Senna. Even so, Senna continues to win. When Senna changes teams from McLaren to William's, new rules are introduced that force the removal of the technology that gave the William's the edge. The changes make the car unstable and Senna struggles to make it perform. At the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola in 1994 Senna crashes and dies from his injuries at the age of 34.

Senna is portrayed as a warm, shy, intelligent and generous man. Fiercely patriotic and always keen to play the Brazilian card, Senna is always aware that he enjoys privileges beyond the reach of many Brazilians. Senna set up a Foundation to help children in Brazil - a Foundation that lives on today as Senna's legacy continues to benefit many, long after his passing. He not only gave immense pride to a struggling nation but he served and continues to serve as an inspiration to many.

The film makes it clear that Senna's faith played an integral part in his success. Senna was a man of prayer who felt connected to and directly enabled by God. Again it offers this information in a neutral way and reports it as fact rather than in any other way.

I found the film deeply engaging and something that offers a privileged window allowing a view into the life of a global icon and someone who was at the pinnacle of their game. A compelling watch.

In the coverage of Senna's funeral Prost is shown as one of the coffin bearers and in the closing credits the point is made that Prost is one of the trustees of the Senna Foundation. I don't want to be unkind, but I wonder if these things are not simply a way for one man to try and deal with his feelings of guilt?

Go and see the film or get the disc. I'll give it 8/10.

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