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Review: Senna

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I’ve just got back from the cinema having been to see Senna, a documentary on the life of the 3-time F1 World Champion Ayrton Senna

I had my reservations beforehand. The reviews have generally been very positive but from places with a vested interest in promoting the film or from sources that don’t focus on F1. But safe to say, they were all blown out of the water. It is a very good film for what it is, very moving and powerful

*Spoilers below*

I think it’s particularly good if you’re someone who’s new to F1 and doesn’t know as much of the back story. The film largely deals with the rivalry between Senna and Alain Prost in the late 1980s and early 90s up until Senna’s death in 1994. For me, it’s a bit old hat because the whole Senna-Prost thing is quite cliche in F1 circles, but obviously to someone who hasn’t investigated every nook and cranny in the story it’s particularly interesting

Having said that, while I didn’t really learn anything and it wasn’t really aimed at me, it was still very enjoyable to watch F1 on the big screen for the first time. Because Formula One Management are so strict with the licensing of F1 footage, it’s very rare that you see it outside of live coverage and season review videos. For instance, Top Gear did an excellent feature on Senna last year but from resulting repeats, the segment was cut out because it cost so much to be able to use the footage to broadcast once, let alone several times. Hopefully they will be able to release this on DVD after because I’d like to watch it again

It has been said that the film is quite biased towards Senna and against Prost and I can sort of understand that. Prost has always been considered the “boring” one and Senna the “interesting”, charismatic one, the one who died heroically at the wheel instead of retiring as champion the year before. But while it is a bit biased towards Senna (after all, he is the subject of the film), I don’t think Prost comes out of it particularly badly. The one person who does come out of it badly for me is the then-president of FISA Jean-Marie Balestre, but I don’t think that is unjustified. The one aspect that I think is too biased is the sense that Senna couldn’t play the political game and “the system was out to get him”, because that simply isn’t true, although I don’t think it really matters as it doesn’t detract from the film for me

As a hardcore F1 fan, I would have liked a couple more of the archetypal Senna moments, such as his battles with Nigel Mansell, instead of being tagged on at the end with the credits where no one will see them because they’ve all walked out by then. Mansell, Piquet, Schumacher and some of the other top drivers are pretty much ignored. And I would’ve liked more from the early years, the Toleman season and the Lotus years. But then again, that’s just me as a hardcore F1 fan. I think it does its job quite well without them. I don’t think they’re needed, because some of them wouldn’t necessarily interest everyone. There was enough in there for an accurate depiction of his personality and god-like genius

But there is another side to the film which I think is especially effective. I had heard of people getting quite emotional while watching it. I was thinking it was because they’d show his death in a particularly moving way, and they do, but for me the most emotional part was the funeral, and the thousands of hysterical fans. Because while it’s all very sad for us F1 fans in the West with our comfortable lifestyles and HD TVs to watch every race in minute detail, there are thousands of very poor people in Brazil who pretty much worshipped this guy for what he did, and he did so much for them on and off the circuit. And I think the film portrays that brilliantly. It gives the film its soul, really – it wouldn’t be half as good or powerful without that aspect

In short, for what it is – a documentary aimed at both F1 fans and those who don’t know much about F1 history – it’s perfect. I can understand that it’s not aimed at someone like me, but while I didn’t learn anything, it was thoroughly enjoyable to watch. And I’m glad I read a negative review last week that criticised it for being too biased because it lowered expectations – I think if I’d gone in hearing only positive reviews I might have gone in expecting something else and been disappointed. Yes, it’s a bit biased and selective, but if it wasn’t, it would’ve been bloody boring

As it’s out on limited release, it isn’t out for much longer – I think you’ve pretty much got until the end of the week (or sooner) to see it

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Written by James Bennett

June 20, 2011 at 20:24

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