Senna Asif Kapadia

Senna Asif Kapadia
You don't have to know the first thing about race car driving to watch, and love, Senna. It possesses the enduring quality that surrounds the best sports films, and Asif Kapadia's documentary about late driver Ayrton Senna is sure to be classified as such. Crafted solely from archived television footage, you won't find talking heads in Senna ― the young, charismatic Brazilian is the solitary focus in a film that gives sports fans and novices alike a comprehensive look into the short life of a remarkable athlete. For those unfamiliar with Senna's legacy, a stunning Formula One debut in 1984 quickly sets the pace. Beaming at the camera, and determined to win at any cost, Senna ― breathtaking at 24 years old ― emerges from 13th place to go head to head with Frenchman Alain Prost, at that time regarded as the most "complete" driver in the sport and the clear favourite. Although Senna lost the race on a technicality, a brave and occasionally reckless style on the track distinguished him from the rest ― a trademark that would both plague and elevate his career for the next decade. Despite his driving prowess, there's more to this character, and Kapadia, who sifted through over 15,000 hours of footage, succeeds in using the material before him to fashion a complicated portrait. He may have been on his way to becoming a three-time world champion, but Senna often expressed disdain for the overriding politics of Formula One, and his troubled relationship with Prost is a delicious rivalry driving the film's narrative. What will appeal most to driving novices, though, are the quiet moments in between races, when we get a sense of who Senna was ― throughout the documentary, crisp and colourful footage of everything from Senna's family home videos to explosive drivers' meetings are interspersed with voiceovers and interviews with Senna, offering fiery, and often sage, insights into racing. But as Senna matures into a wizened champion, race car driving also evolves in the early '90s, introducing volatile, computer-operated vehicles. As Senna struggles to keep pace and operate the new cars with the shadowy presence of Michael Schumacher on his tail, Kapadia gives us the first hint of trouble, showing Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger's fatal crash during a qualifying round, witnessed by Senna, anxiously watching from the sidelines. The documentary swiftly switches gears and reaches an agonizing crescendo as Senna's career comes to a head at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. The limited edition DVD features a booklet of notes on the film, on-camera interviews with narrators, more family home videos and a commentary with the filmmakers. Ultimately, it's clear from the film and DVD contents that Kapadia took on a sport as alienating as race car driving and not only made it accessible, but gave us a character so beloved that his passing at 34, though anticipated, is practically unbearable. (Mongrel Media)