Movie Review: Senna (2010; Available on DVD and Instant Streaming on Netflix)

Senna

When Mrs. Blahg and I began dating way back in the early 1990’s, I was thoroughly impressed by her love of Formula One racing and old British cars in general.  She is the apple that did not fall far from the tree (she even works in the same industry that he does… and fortunately, that tree happens to be a great guy).  Having grown up in Long Beach, California, and thanks to it’s Grand Prix and former history of Formula One racing, and my rather odd connection to Clay Regazzoni (long story), I was smitten with this woman and her hatred of Nascar and everything that sport represents.  Her favorite driver at the time was the Brazilian three time world champion Aryton Senna, now considered the greatest driver of all time.

In early May, 1994, we took our last trip to Las Vegas.  It was there that we learned of Aryton Senna’s death in San Marino.  It is now 18 years later and a documentary has been made outlining the last decade of his life, and it is a documentary that any racing fan, anyone interested in excellence in sport, and anyone who loves  great documentary film making needs to see.

Senna opens in 1984 as Ayrton moves from go-kart racing to Formula One.  Immediately, people can see that there is something special about this quiet and remarkably unassuming man.  The film consists entirely of old footage… nothing new is created in order to bulk up the minutes… and in doing so, you can become immersed in the time that he was driving.  You will also become immersed in the rivalry between Senna and his nemesis, Alain Prost, the French four time world champion… and for the purposes of this film, and the racing community as a whole, the villain.

Don’t get me wrong, Prost isn’t responsible for Senna’s death… but he does represent everything that Aryton Senna wasn’t.  He was arrogant, political, and raced for points as opposed to the win… Senna raced to win.  Senna was fearless, Prost was calculating… and after three years of racing with Lotus-Renault, and winning six Grands Prix, both Ayrton and Alain teamed up with McLaren-Honda… and in that first year, 1988, won all but one of the 16 Grands Prix… and gave Senna his first World Championship.

Throughout this time, Prost and Senna never ease up on the other… but one comes off as willing to undermine a teammate for his own glory, and even at the risk of both lives… while the other does his best to simply be the best driver he can be while avoiding the inevitable politics of any sport.

The film never points a finger, never makes any assumptions… it allows the footage and the history to speak for itself… and this is what makes Senna such an incredible document.  We are granted access to Senna’s personal life, the behind the scenes meetings, the relationships he built over his far too short career, and the moments that made Aryton Senna beloved… the aforementioned quiet demeanor, the charity to his home country of Brazil who desperately needed a hero to root for, and found it in Senna, the handsome cheer he brought to all situations, and the moments of dread and sadness at the injuries and deaths of fellow drivers throughout the decade.  The viewer gets a sense of what a decent guy he was… and a sense of how much was lost.

For those of you who may not be into racing, fear not… this is not an inaccessible detail oriented film.  At a few later points they get into the nitty gritty of some of the different computerized components of the cars as the sport changed with the times, and the problems associated with them, but it  feels completely germane to the rest of the story and never once pulls you out. 

If you enjoy a great documentary and want to experience what it is to be in the cockpit of a Formula One race car, see Senna.  If you want to see a film about someone who was probably the best at what they did… see Senna.  If you are an Alain Prost fan… see Senna, and see why you have been rooting for the wrong guy. 

Although the Blu-ray is available for Italian and Portuguese, it is not available in English… but it is available on DVD and can be viewed on Instant Streaming from Netflix.

Ole, ole ole ole,
Cornelius J. Blahg

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