Ayrton Senna was always in a hurry. He raced through his schoolwork so he could compete in go-kart races. He competed internationally in those — yes, there’s a circuit — and then jumped to race cars.
And by 1994 he was a three-time world champion of the Formula One competitions.
Senna was brave — or depending on how you looked at it, foolhardy. (Jackie Stewart, the hero of another era, publicly accused him of making a dangerous sport even more dangerous.) But Senna was in a rush, even for a racer, and if that meant grabbing at every risky chance …
You know how this is going to end, don’t you?
You do as soon as the new documentary “Senna” begins, even if you know nothing about Formula One and even less about its Brazilian hero. There is no way that this is going to have a happy ending. Yet the film keeps you watching.
Part of that is due to Senna himself, a camera-ready personality who was both playful and intense, hedonistic (among his girlfriends was the improbable bombshell Xuxa) and devout (he regularly read the Bible, and gave much of his winnings to charity).
Part is due to the natural drama of his time in the sport, which immediately presented a rivalry with another racer, apparent backstage machinations to keep the Brazilian in his place, and far-too-prescient warnings about lax safety regulations.
But most of the film’s excitement comes from the film. Director Asif Kapadia has, quite daringly, decided to rely completely on primary materials — although occasionally we hear the voices of after-the-fact observers, what we see is what happened then.
And what we see is quite remarkable. Senna entered the sport around the time tiny video cameras did, and for all of the big races we’re with him, perched on the left side of his car. You see almost exactly what he’s seeing — which, at around 200 miles an hour, feels a bit like being trapped inside a video game.
Except this wasn’t a video game. It was life and death. And — for race enthusiasts and an admiring nation — the daily challenge of a daring competitor.
Senna (PG-13) Universal/PDA/ESPN Films (104 min.)
Directed by Asif Kapadia. In English and Portuguese, with English subtitles. Now playing in New York.
source: © nj.com