Senna fascinates the viewer with a combination of archival footage and a well-structured story. Ayrton Senna was a Brazilian Formula 1 racecar driver who won three world championships before meeting his maker while doing the thing he loved most. I missed this exciting and at times emotional documentary when it played at SXSW and was only too glad to see it in its current engagement at the Studio 30.
It’s not important to know much if anything at all about this level of sport. I know practically nothing for instance and that’s didn’t prevent me from enjoying Senna or for that matter films like Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix (1966) or the 1971 Steve McQueen starrer Le Mans (not part of the Formula 1 line-up). What gives Senna such an exhilarating edge are in-car perspectives shot on video with the camera mounted straight on the road so that you get a dizzy feeling watching. A couple of times in Senna the race just happens in front of you and the effect is whoa inducing. Even the typical video noise lines from the camera vibrating in its 100 mph frame aren’t a distraction. Seeing a race, with its hazardous curves and high speed, unfold before your eyes from the point-of-view of the driver is unquestionable arousing.
Senna won one race with his gearbox locked in 6th gear. He was an incredible driver and as interviews show he was also a mover and shaker. Senna started in the late 70s on the international go-kart circuit. Moving into pro racing in the 80s he rapidly became a dominating force. Senna also takes in press conferences and private driver meetings where issues about the politics of the sport and explained in no uncertain terms.
Senna works because of all the above reasons but the film also has a heart and you become attached to the sense of bravery or maybe the plain insanity of the people depicted. The sport is really about handling a car with precision. Senna the man was always concerned about driver safety and also became a spokesperson for poverty in his native country. Naturally Senna rubbed some fellow champions the wrong way. But there’s not a dry eye during the televised funeral with Senna’s many girlfriends and his detractors all celebrating his achievement.
— Michael Bergeron