Award winning documentary, Senna, tells an archetypal story that is surely familiar to everyone, but its twist comes in that this isn’t fiction, but fact – and, it seems, fact largely unaltered by the filmmakers view.
While it’s always hard to come to a film which has been so well reviewed and lauded with a clear head I always try to do my best.
However, I am always concerned such films will end up like Gladiator – a huge disappointment (though with 10 years between me and my first watch I admit it may be time for me to give Gladiator another chance).
But it isn’t a Roman epic I am writing about today, rather it is a modern documentary which, from my thoughts at the outset, I thought would be a very different kettle of fish to a fictional epic. After watching Senna however, I realise I may have been wrong.
The most striking thing for me was how it told an archetypal story that has been embedded in my consciousness for as long as I can remember: A person with great passion gives his heart and soul to his quest, takes it too far and ends up on the losing end of whatever it is he is up against.
Of course, this is a vast generalization and the best tellings of that tale add their own special something to it, and Senna surely falls into this category.
As a fan of rock music there are many similar tales, and it was these Senna often brought to mind, just rather than playing the biggest gigs it was winning the biggest races and balancing that need for the bigger and brighter lights with the need for satisfying competition.
This reading of the film really hit home to me in one of the quotes from the race doctor on the fateful day at Imola when he said Senna had said to him: “I can’t quit.”
When that is said in rock stories it is often drugs or drink that are the thing the ‘hero’ can’t quit, here though it is racing and winning showing the similarly obsessive elements of personality which fuel anyone who works outside of the mainstream world of the 9-5 and adds a real sense that this is not just a film for Formula 1 fans, but a film with a bigger story to tell and, possibly, message to impart.
Technically, throughout Senna is a brilliantly constructed film.
Clearly made from endless hours of race footage, edited with personal home movies, which give a sense of the man while never sinking into the world of obsessive celebrity voyeurism, it all builds to paint a picture of a man who’s entire world was racing.
From the go-karting videos of the late 1970s until the words “San Marino Grand Prix, Imola, April 29th 1994” this is a look at a frankly astounding career and the sense of competition that built between Senna and Prost over their time in Formula 1.
When those words appeared however, the mood changed.
This may be because I have a vague recollection of the race on May 1st 1994 and so knew what was coming, but I would say that it was probably more down to the way the film was made, clearly building to something (whether the viewer knows what that might be or not), as my vague memories.
The footage of the race meeting, starting with an enthusiastic Rubens Barrichello followed by his crash (the first of many that weekend) which he survived remarkably unscathed, almost becomes a film in its own right as the factors effecting the race escalate.
This is where the film really comes into its own and, while telling an extremely emotional story, it always holds back from the hysteria it could fall into, while clearly showing the hysteria of others and dealing sensitively with some remarkably graphic images.
Senna is a film that clearly deserves the praise it has received as it tells a story many will know in a way that remains engrossing and, it doesn’t seem to matter whether you are a fan of F1 or not, the archetype this film is based around still has something to say.