Right up front I will say that I have never seen a single Formula 1 race and I have never followed anything related to Formula 1. That said though, Senna is a fantastic film and even those who have never watched a single Formula 1 race will find something to like with Senna.
First of all the way that this documentary is formed is really interesting and unique. All of the footage in Senna is archived footage compiled of Formula 1 footage, home videos of Ayrton Senna, Brazilian TV footage and footage from the pre-race briefing. This type of footage lets you know that everything that you are watching is 100% true and it really helps that it has this footage for the more insane sections of the film, mainly the scale of the crashes.
The main reason that the film works however is Ayrton Senna himself and the rivalry between him and Alain Prost. Senna is a really fun person in the footage, especially the footage from Brazilian TV, mainly the show at Christmas. The audience also grows more aware of the politics in Formula 1 alongside Senna going from his debut in 1984 to his untimely death in 1994 and this works especially well for those who don't understand the behind the scenes details of Formula 1 and as such the audience learns this along with Senna. The rivalry between Senna and Prost is the most complex area of the film shown through the races they had against each other, with the races in Japan showing this the most clearly. These races show the lengths that these two racers would go to win, even Senna crashing into Prost in the 1990 Championship and Prost complaining of foul play by Senna in 1989 and the claim supported by friends of Prost. These actions show the complex relationship between these two men, especially as they are teammates with Maclarren and as such the rivarly is even more profound as they had to work with each other in each race. At the end, we fully see how Prost respected Senna through the footage at the funeral of Senna and this is the most powerful part of the film as the majority of the film is spent showing the rivalry between Senna and Prost and in the end they fully respected each other.
The ending of the film showing the death of Senna is both extremely intense and heartbreaking. The footage of Senna's last lap in Formula 1 had me on the edge of my seat as I knew Senna was going to crash but I was filled with anxiety over when Senna would crash. The footage afterwards of Senna's funeral and the resulting footage of Senna explaining that go-karting was the best racing of his life was one of the few moments in any film that reduced me to tears and I had no shame in crying as it was truly upsetting as you come to really love and enjoy the company of Senna throughout the film and as such it is a massive punch to the gut when Senna does die.
There is one complaint I have with the film and it is more to do with the content of the film rather than the quality, there isn't enough footage. I really wanted to see more footage of Senna racing in places other than Brazil and Japan and I wanted to see the true impact of Senna's charity work on the children of Brazil rathe than it being a footnote in the film. However, there is an extended version of Senna floating around which is just under 3 hours long and this could fill in the footage I want to see. However, if the one complaint you can find with a film is that you want to see more, it must be a pretty phenomenal movie.
In summary, Asif Kapadia has made a truly heartbreaking film that is full of heart and soul and true admiration of the talents of Ayrton Senna and I highly recommend that, if it is still showing in a cinema near you that you watch Senna as soon as possible.
My Rating: 5/5