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October 15, 2011 | 12:00 p.m. CST
British filmmaker Asif Kapadia’s documentary Senna places audiences in the drivers’ seat of a Formula One racecar. Using on-board cameras mounted in Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna’s car, audiences feel the motor’s vibrations ascend their spines. Stomachs lurch with every turn.
Even if audiences aren’t familiar with Formula One racing in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s — or with Senna — stomachs roll at the opening scene: Fluttery footage of Senna’s mother asking God to protect her son from danger. His passion and talent are yet to be introduced, but his fate seems clear.Related Movie
Kapadia unfurls Senna’s raw talent with storytelling ease. He pieces together live footage from Formula One and Grand Prix races, on-camera interviews, vintage commercials and home videos with an overlapping dialogue from commentators, family members and Senna.
In 1985, Senna wins his first Grand Prix in Portugal, despite rainy conditions. His car glides along the track like a meticulously controlled soap bar. For the next nine years, Senna’s career accelerates from championship to championship. He endures a controversial relationship with his teammate Alain Prost and naively fumbles to fight the politics of Formula One’s management.
He speaks out and keeps driving. In 1991, Senna wins his home Grand Prix. Kapadia includes footage of him screaming from inside his helmet as he passes the flags, overwhelmed with emotion. He faints from physical exhaustion and medics peel his gloved fingers from the steering wheel.
Senna seduces audiences with the racer’s humility and fervor. Shaky home videos of Senna swimming in Sao Paulo water, waving crowds from his socially irresolute home country and archived videos of champagne dripping down to his snaggletoothed grin ease that carsick feeling.
“Happiness will come when I feel complete,” Senna says at one point. “But I have plenty of time for that.”
Kapadia shows us Senna as a driver second and a person first..