This outstanding bio-pic about the life of three-times Formula One World Champion Ayrton Senna is an exemplary textbook study in documentary film-making. Regardless of whether or not you have any interest in motor racing or in Senna himself, this film really is one of the finest-ever examples of the genre you're ever likely to see.
All F1 fans know that Senna (full name Ayrton Senna de Silva) died on 1st May 1994 following a fatal crash in the Italian Grand Prix at San Morino, the last driver (to date, August 2012) to die in a F1 racing accident. The film pieces together archive footage tracing early life and go-karting success, obsession with driving and winning and later days of international super-stardom of this most talented and fearless driver. His career-long rivalry with cool-as-ice French driver Alain Prost is revealed in a direct and no-holds barred narrative containing some astounding unguarded, off-the-record moments of interaction between these two individuals of contrasting (and clashing) temperaments.
Senna's unique driving talent and personal modesty, the enormous impact his success had on popular sentiment in Brazil, his heartfelt religious convictions and the work and money he dedicated to the education of under-privileged children in his native land are all revealed. On the way we are shown rare peeks into confrontations at F1 pre-race drivers' meetings, and some of the F1 engineering innovations which made their way into mass-production vehicles - like traction control for example.
Overall this is a gripping, well-paced film which holds the attention throughout with never a dull moment. The choice to forego a voiceover-narrator and allow the archive film to speak for itself makes the film's impact on the viewer all the more powerful. Some of the driver's-eye-from-the-car camera-work during F1 races is genuinely edge-of-the-seat terrifying, and allows you to appreciate just what phenomenal speeds were and are involved.
If you appreciate good film-making with fine editing, regardless of the subject matter, you really should see this. If you are a student of film or aspiring film-maker then seeing and studying `Senna' - several times, not just once - is a must, and if you're a F1 fan you are gonna love it.
Five stars for excellence.
on 14 December 2011
It's difficult to say what hasn't already been said about this film already by the countless reviews. What I will say was I've never seen a film have such an incredible effect on a cinema audience. Everyone in the auditorium remaned seated until the end and everyone left in silence or tears. This is no ordinary documentary but then Senna was no ordinary Grand Prix driver.
There have been more successful drivers than Senna - Prost, Schumacher and Fangio. There have also been drivers as talented as Senna who have died before they took their final chequered flag such as Clark and Giles Villeneuve. Yet somehow Mr Senna, even when alive, had an aura of something unique about himself. This film successfully manages to capture just how unique he was and also how fantastic the racing was in the time of Senna's career.
The film is comprised entirely of F1 footage, never-before-seen behind the scenes video-ing and also home movies from the Senna family. Narration comes from interviews with Senna whilst he was alive, commentators at the time and also his peers, rivals and friends. There are no talking heads in the film, the audio is overlaid onto the stunning on-screen footage.
The story Senna's arrival in the UK, debut season at Toleman, his switch to Lotus, his time at McLaren and his ill-fated move to Williams. The Senna vs Prost rivalry, arguably the greatest sporting rivalry of all time, is covered in great deatail - albiet purely from Mr Senna's angle. The iron grip of FIA boss Mr Balestre is also covered, showing just how absurd the governing body of the sport was at the time. I wish, as another reviewer has mentioned, more time was spent on his stint at Lotus as he had some utterly brilliant drives there too.
A brilliant piece of film-making, I'd strongly recommend it to any F1 but I also think it easily has appeal for non-petrol heads too. I've shown the film to several friends who aren't fond of F1 and they thought it was incredible too.
on 23 November 2011
(Review is for the 2-Disc UK release)
I've been a Formula 1 fan since the mid-80s and recall being mesmerised watching Senna on TV in his Lotus days. I followed his career as he reached his zenith with McLaren winning 3 world championships till his untimely demise with Williams.
The documentary takes a similar path starting from Senna's karting days up to his death at Imola '94 but with the added spice of having rare footage. What I also liked about this documentary is that its not your usual "talking-head" format; instead the viewer watches seamless footage with commentary dubbed over the scenes.
As I mentioned the rare footage is simply stunning, such as the driver's pre-race safety briefing where Senna argues with then-FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre, Senna persuading the race steward to shift pole-position to the clean side of the track at Suzuka '90 (which was overruled by Balestre), Senna's brilliant drive in wet weather at Monaco '84, Estoril '85 in heavy rain to claim his 1st win, Interlagos '91 where he was stuck in sixth gear and the pain he went through after the race; there are many others which for me elevates this film to another level.
No film about Senna is complete without his main rival Alain Prost, and here we see how both drivers started off as team-mates in '88 with McLaren and subsequent fall-out culminating with Prost moving to Ferrari and that famous "shunt" at Suzuka '90.
The film also touches on Senna's personal side -- his faith to god, strong family-life and absolute dedication to winning.
I rate this film 5 stars but with slight apprehension for a few reasons: no footage of Senna during his British Formula 3 days where he honed his combative and aggressive driving style battling ex-F1 driver Martin Brundle; Senna's superb drive in the wet at Donington Park '93 was not featured; no mention of Senna's great duels with Nigel Mansell which I think warranted some footage (their battles was fierce, e.g. Mansell grabbed Senna by the throat at Spa '87 after they both tangled on the track, Barcelona '91 wheel-to-wheel on the main straight); lastly the director did not use legendary F1 commentator Murray Walker and Senna's closest team-mate Gerhard Berger to provide narration.
The 2nd disc has additional commentary on Senna in "talking-head" format from Prost, Ron Dennis and other F1 commentators; I found the interview with John Bisignano of ESPN interesting as I had never heard of him before (Murray Walker & James Hunt were the usual commentators in my part of the world) -- at the end of the interview he was visibly sad of Senna's death. I expected Murray Walker, Gerhard Berger, Martin Brundle, Michael Schumacher and maybe Bernie Ecclestone to be interviewed in the 2nd disc but sadly were missing.
The end-credits has the famous clip of Senna rushing out of his car to save Eric Comas when the latter crashed heavily at Spa '92 -- for me this act of bravery shows that Senna was the complete racing driver incorporating the paradox of an aggressive and sometimes ruthless driving style but yet endangers his own life to save the life of another driver.
on 26 July 2011
Watching this DVD was really emotional. I am still a Senna fan, but really watching the events again in Imola was really breathtaking. This film was also awarded at the Sundance film festival in 2011. Watch it and you will discover why!
on 6 March 2012
It's important to say from the outset that you certainly don't have to be a confirmed petrolhead to enjoy this fascinating focus on Senna's life. Given that he was killed back in 1994, it's some tribute that his name still resonates so strongly within contemporary motor racing. And this dvd shows just why Senna deserves such eminence. It's a thrilling, pace-never-flagging account of the young go karter who was simply born to the sport. Sickened by the politics of F1 - embodied to him by arch rival Alain Prost and FIA boss Jean-Marie Balestre - Senna just wanted to prevail through his prodigious ability on the track. His mastery of wet conditions, uncompromising flat out attitude in every race and winning mentality are well portrayed. He comes across as somewhat lonely at times, harking back fondly to the simplicity of his go karting days, when it was all about pace, and talent ("pure driving, pure racing...no money - no politics..."). But the abiding memory is of a complex, phenomenally talented and competitive individual, who oozed charisma without ever trying to. In my view, he's still THE man in F1 history, despite the fierce competition from many illustrious contenders - and, with due respect, this compelling dvd totally reinforces such a view of a true F1 icon.
on 4 May 2011
Please note that the main feature disc is in Italian with Italian subtitle. However you can change to the original language in the option which allows an english speaker to follow the majority of the film but the subtitles are only available in Italian.
on 7 August 2011
A hugely enjoyable documentary film about Ayrton Senna's F1 career and his tragic death. I'm not even an F1 fan but I think everyone can admire the man's tenacity and sheer determination to be successful at what he truly loved. Senna was a self-confessed purist. He didn't care about money or fame. As the film illustrates, he was often disenchanted by all the nonsense attached to F1 (as well as other sports). I think Senna's humble character is summed up beautifully when, in the film, he is asked who his favourite driver is. He responds, not by naming one of his high profile colleagues on the F1 circuit, but by citing a man he used to drive with in his homeland of Brazil. Not only was Senna a fantastic competitor but he was also a good man, never forgetting his roots. The phrase "they don't make 'em like they used to" is often over used. Not in this case.
on 8 August 2011
Firstly, I'm writing this review to make sure its rating goes up to 5! I know why it's lower than it should be but I won't let that get me down - this film is stunning and, PLEASE, buy the English version or go to see it at the movies as it's still in some cinemas as of August 8th 2011.
I have already seen this film twice and I'm thinking about going to see it a third time.
I will try not to waffle but it's difficult. Basically, as a child, I was fascinated with Ayrton Senna da Silva. If I watched a GP - which wasn't much but every now and then just to see Ayrton, my mum's friend's husband would say I should root for Mansell. But I always loved Senna. He was charismatic, intense, so obviously brilliant and... a true genius. I miss that genius so much - in life not just motor sport.
But really, in an age when grip was something drivers found on their gloves if they were lucky, Senna had car control at high speeds like no-one else, despite what happened at the end, and we all know it wasn't his fault he died. He could throw around any car with ease, and it was ridiculous how much better he was than almost everyone he faced in an age of truly brilliant drivers.
In the wet, Senna was in his element. There is bias in the film of course like the glossing over of the 1984 Monaco GP in torrential conditions. People forget Mansell would probably never have been overtaken by anyone, including Senna, if he hadn't crashed his Lotus car as he was flying past everyone so quickly. There was also a very good chance the extremely talented Stefan Bellof (who tragically died the following year) would have overtaken him as he was even faster in his Tyrell than Senna's Toleman and was catching up with Senna as Senna caught Alain Prost. But Senna was overall the best of the best in the wet. I still love Clive James' comment on Senna in pouring conditions from the 1986 F1 video review: "It was pouring with rain, which slowed everyone down, except Senna, whose speed decreased by 1 mile per hour." So funny and almost true!
Also, the movie depicts Prost a little unfairly. Prost was a very talented driver and he didn't earn the right to race for McClaren by being rubbish. Being painted as the evil villain probably made the film more interesting, but he's actually very nice about Senna these days and Prost wasn't all bad. Senna wasn't perfect either. Except on the track of course. Prost just knew how to play the game better than Senna did.
As for the actual film-choices, the music by Antonio Pinto is stunning and, apart from adding Chris Rea's 'Saudade' at the end, I can't think how the music could have added more power. It's really nice that the Brazilian composer wrote it all for free.
However, the editing is the highlight, with emotions deliberately put at the heart of everything. The emotional rising and falling, the use of that famous victory theme and the shouts of the Brraaaaaazzziiiilll when he won yet another GP, the awful weekend that caused a whole country to mourn officially for 3 days and unofficially forever are all so powerful that anyone who avoids crying is either very hard or all cried out from the original tragedy in 94.
I wish the film was a bit longer, with more races, more about his work with children (little Senninha!) and more in his gorgeous Lotus with the John Player advertising, but it had to end some time. Sadly, like the wonderful and charismatic man himself.
on 10 October 2011
Oh God, where do I start?? Senna, IMHO, is the greatest driver that ever lived and 100 minutes is not enough to portray his life and skills behind the wheel. However this film does a pretty good job of doing just that.
It shows clips never seen before and of course clips we have all seen before, but may have forgotten about because let's face it, it's nearly 30 years ago that he broke through into F1 and that makes me feel very old.
It really shows what a dedicated, very emotional and religious man he was. People think he was a hard nosed racer who would do anything to win, well maybe he was, but he was always the first there when another driver was injured. The look on his face when Martin Donnelly had his near fatal crash at Jerez in '91 says it all and when Rubens and Roland had their accidents at Imola the weekend that he died. He knew he shouldn't have raced that day and how we all wish he hadn't.
We all remember what happened in May '94, it is etched into my brain, as we sat there and watched it all happen live not believing what we were seeing. It's impossible to see the footage without getting emotional and I defy anyone not to be upset by it. I sat there last night weeping. As the 17 years have passed there is not a day when I don't think of my only idol, the only man I would ever have left my husband for.
Life is so cruel, but what he did do is leave us with the BEST motor racing we will ever see and probably will ever see. Those cars were beasts and needed skill to handle them and the drivers of that era were true heroes. Nowadays they are computer operators and nothing more.
Make sure you have plenty of tissues because believe me as the film rolls on you will need them more and more.
on 6 August 2014
This is a must see for all Senna and F1 fans. Im not going into detail, i really just want to say that this dvd can be watched either with the directors commentary on OR off.
I was almost put off buying it because of other reviewers saying you cant turn off the commentary. Its not correct, the directors commentary can be turned off.