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Senna: The Documentary

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Ayrton Senna was a legend. He was one of the greatest Formula One racing drivers in history — that's not my ruling, that's the verdict of 217 world championship drivers. His statistics are legendary: 41 F1 wins, 65 pole positions, three world championships, so on and so forth.

Along with James Dean, he was a member of that exclusive clique of racing drivers who drove fast, died young, and totally looked like James Franco.


We knew all that before we watched Senna, and odds are good you know it too.


But Senna the documentary isn't about the accomplishments of Ayrton Senna, the racing driver. Senna is about the religious man whose belief in God-and his belief that God believed in him-powered the confidence behind his incredible career.

It's about the Brazilian man who, instead of forsaking his allegiance to his third-world country of origin, embraced his homeland and made its citizens proud to be Brazilian. It's about the forthright man who, for better or worse, always spoke his mind and refused to play politics or childish games, even at the expense of his own career.

Senna isn't a racing story. It's a human story, with a wonderfully flawed, eminently relatable protagonist. It's been rendered with incredible love and care, too. Director Asif Kapadia and his team have assembled a documentary composed entirely of original footage, tying individual scenes together using the voiceovers of Senna's family, friends and rivals instead of cutting to static shots of his closest acquaintances reflecting on the driver's life.

For the film's 106 minutes, it follows Senna like an omniscient narrator every step of the way, in order to paint as honest a picture of its subject as it can.

Formula One fanaticism isn't required to appreciate the film, but Senna provides a special treat for F1 fans: the footage from the races is phenomenal. The opportunity to see an F1 race on a movie screen and hear the wail of the engines in theater-quality surround sound doesn't come along very often.


To be honest, I'd recommend this film even if the fifty percent of it that takes place outside the car was garbage, just to have the chance to watch and listen to the races. But luckily, I don't have to do that, because Senna is the sort of movie that hits you harder than you think it will, and haunts you long after the lights come up. See it.

Senna opens August 12th in New York City and Los Angeles. For locations and dates near you, check out the Senna page on Facebook.


Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

This story originally appeared on on August 11, 2011, and was republished with permission.


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