However unlike many documentaries that may feel the need to dwell on one’s passing, director Asif Kapadia has adopting a style of film making that instead not only takes the audience back to Senna’s heyday of racing but makes us feel as if we were there, experiencing everything as it unfolded. The entirety of film is made of real footage including official races, interviews, behind the scenes of each events, public appearances and even home movies all the while narrated by a substantial variety of figures ranging from managers, fellow drivers and newscasters who were not only experienced these events first hands but even knew the man himself well. No cutaways, no stationary studios interviews, not even shots of what anything looks like today, just footage of the time and place.
Yet even though is may seem this is a documentary made for the Formula One fan, beyond just the structure of the inner workings of the motor-sport we are given an insight to the man himself and those around him, often at times making footage seem almost character driven that while at odds with many, there is still underlying respect. However those who may wonder about his personal life, either due to a directorial decision, lack of footage or out of respect, little is actually known about the man off the track, with the documentary kick starting just as he enters Formula One. On hand this may seem limiting to those less enthusiastic about the motor-sport while on the other hand it doesn’t get bogged down with such details that may make the film appear a little too overly done at times, not being as if its trying to hard make the audience care. Off the track though, the film doesn’t skim on the crisis in Brazil, something that was very important about his public image, that in times of need is what helped make him seem like a beacon of hope in Brazil, in order to show others just why those in the F1 and elsewhere considered him an important figure outside of just being good at his passion. The documentary doesn’t paint him as some messiah, instead just how and why this man had become so popular. The narration itself is accompanied with a brief small subtitle as each give their story. The variety of the narration is what gives the tone legs, in that the contrasting view points allow a little more balance in what is at the end of the day a tribute as well.
Senna was deeply religious but also very much aware of the dangers. In fact, even though there hasn’t been a race related death since 1994, Kapadia also felt the need to portray this by not holding back with footage of other incidents such as Rubens Barrichello literally flying into the sidelines. Despite these occasional harrowing instances, they make the film more real than it already is. In regards to his aforementioned death behind the wheel, it actually (and in all honesty thankfully) doesn’t dwell on it as up to this point the film has been about his life as a racer and anything else might have seemed almost unnecessarily tarnishing. While we do get visuals on the brutal crash and finally his (elaborate) funeral, it is cut up with shots of each of those who attended and them with the man himself. Its pretty emotional stuff.
Without going overly sentimental and getting distracted by the personal details, this may seem less inviting to those other than F1 fans. However I feel Kapadia has not made this case by selecting and structuring the footage and narration that makes Senna inviting yet ultimately compelling. Some may not know much about the man himself, but this documentary does its best to do just that. As for F1 fans, its a no brainer as what we have here is a slice of motor sport history, one that I feel is a great viewing experience for all.
With narration from Ron Denis, Frank Williams, Alain Prost and many others.