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senna

 

We rented this documentary based on the enthusiastic reviews I remembered reading when it came out. I’m a sports fan, but I’ve never been particularly interested in auto racing or Formula 1, and my knowledge of Aryton Senna – the three-time world champion who died in a 1994 crash – was pretty rudimentary. I can confidently say I now know much more about Senna than I did, although I’m not sure the film was otherwise very fulfilling. It’s never boring, but it also never escapes the sports documentary genre in the way that made “Hoop Dreams” or “When We Were Kings” so compelling. “Senna” is told in straight chronological order with no narrator, using tons of racing and interview footage from Senna’s brief, meteoric career. Born to a wealthy Brazilian family, Senna was a phenomenon, racing and winning from a young age with spectacular style. The film is its most riveting as he tears around the tracks in Monte Carlo, Tokyo and Interlagos, Brazil, often from the vantage of a camera perched above his shoulder. As he advanced up the Formula 1 pecking order, Senna won an army of fans and made high-profile enemies, which snarled him in various dramas that played out on video. He was also handsome, charming and articulate in English, which helps the film’s cause of presenting Senna as the sympathetic victim of the corrupt world of auto racing. Cast as the villains are his chief rival, the canny Frenchman, Alain Prost, and the cynical head of the racing association, Jean-Marie Balestre, also a Frenchman, who appear to conspire to confound the brash Senna. We never hear from Prost or Balestre outside the contemporary footage, and this one-sided narrative is the film’s greatest weakness. We gets hints that Senna’s aggressive style meant he was not universally beloved by other drivers, mostly seen in a testy interview with former champion Jackie Stewart, but it’s not enough to dull the hagiographic shine. The film ends with long shots of Senna’s funeral, and interviews with weepy fans, one of which who said with Senna’s death, there would be “no joy” in Brazil. The movie forgets to mention Brazil’s soccer team won the World Cup that year.

 

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