Composing a narrative from contemporary interviews, director Asif Kapadia’s documentary on the hugely popular and successful Formula One driver Ayrton Senna dispels with the use of retrospective interviews, creating a truly engaging, dramatic narrative, depicting the charismatic, driven Senna from his debut season in Formula One to his untimely tragic death in 1994.
Kapadia’s documentary, despite its rather specific subject matter, is consistently inclusive; such is the allure of Ayrton Senna that surely no viewer, despite any preconceived opinions upon the appeal of Formula One, could fail to connect with the central conceit: a man inescapably pulled towards competing.
Such is the wealth of footage available that there is no need for present-day interjection. The use of exclusively contemporary footage, both track footage and contemporary interviews, ensures that the drama which unfolds feels truly immediate, with a real sense of urgency.
Senna’s rivalry with French driver Alain Prost forms much of the narrative impetus, imbuing each race depicted into a fierce battle of skill and prowess. The political difficulties Senna faced with the officials of Formula One too take up much of the narrative: Senna is shown to be a truthful, earnest man, utterly devoted to improving his performance.
Some have criticised the perceived reverence the filmmakers have for Senna; this reverence is certainly present, but that it is not to say it is misplaced. Senna, ever proud of his Brazilian roots, inspired a nation, culminating in the mass attendance of his funeral. His charitable works continue to this day through his foundation. Senna, as the documentary footage shows, was a complex man: philanthropic, religious and ever-aware of his own capabilities.
The structure of the documentary makes for truly thrilling viewing, playing as a dramatic piece rather than a simple character study.