★ ★ ★ ★
I came across the name of this documentary in looking over an Empire Magazine article on Oscar snubs. Since the film was released in many parts of the world in 2010, but still many others in 2011, the line as to whether or not it could qualify this year has apparently been a point of contention. Though I don’t know a lot about Formula One racing, though I am a huge fan of automobiles in general, the reviews I read led me to giving this one a shot on Netflix Instant Watch.
Ayrton Senna was a Brazilian kart racer that migrated to Europe for kart racing, and eventually, found his way into Formula One racing at the age of 24. Throughout the 1980s, he became one of the sport’s best competitors and a three-time Formula One World Champion. His feuding on and off the track with French driver and three-time World Champion Alain Prost helped bring further popularity to the sport, and his personal calm demeanor and humility made him a fan to many outside the sport as well. In his native Brazil, he became somewhat of a personal treasure during Brazil’s crushing economic and political turmoil of the late 1980s and early 1990s. His death in 1994 at the age of 34 from a crash brought increased attention to the dangers of Formula One racing and instilled new guidelines to help keep drivers safe.
The entire film is put together from archive footage. Though there is voiceover narration throughout from different drivers, commentators, medical staff and others, they never actually appear on screen visually. It’s amazing the amount of footage that had to have been compiled for this film and the editing of it all together is amazingly precise. As a viewer, one literally forgets that they are watching an amalgam of old television, stock and personal film and video footage; to the viewer, it’s as if you are watching a narrative film on Senna’s life with him in the leading role. I’ve never before seen this kind of take on a documentary, but it worked wonderfully and, obviously, is only something that is feasible if a lot of source footage is available.
Maddie, my girlfriend, can’t stand racing or cars nine times out of ten, though I do make her watch Top Gear several times a week and call her beloved car a “pry-us” like they do on the show when bashing the vehicle. However, even as someone not really interested in the sport of Formula One racing, she really enjoyed the film. So, that leads me to believe that whether you love racing or could care less, there is something this film has for everyone. Senna was a smart and very able athlete in his field, but above all a humble and gracious person it would seem, and to see his professional career unfold with the story telling techniques used in this documentary is absolutely magical.