One would have thought that the best movie ever made about F1 (this one) would be full, wall to wall, of filmic pyrotechnics shot in the same way that FIFA commission world cup movies with super saturated, super slo-mo, super hi-def film set to a super hi-fi sound track.
But it isn’t.
And there are two potential reasons for this. The first; artistic in that director, Asif Kapadia and Editor Chris King want it to eschew the flotsam of F1 and capture the essence of the man on a more personal level; the second for storytelling reasons.
I think it’s a bit of both because what makes this documentary so successful is it sets out to essentially tell us a right ripping yarn that’s not distracted by special effects.
I’m not an F1 buff. I’m about average in terms of my on-off interest in the sport. At the moment Bernie Ecclestone has successfully moved my button firmly to the off position.
So I don’t write this through rose tinted spectacles. I comment only as a film lover.
This documentary is set in a golden era where the baddy was not Ecclestone (he barely appears) but the then F1 director. Jean Marie-Balestre, who’s almost xenophobic and certainly nepotistic support of fellow Frenchman Alain Prost is a key plot device.
Much of the film follows the central battle for supremacy between “the Professor” Prost and Senna and it’s fascinating.
Not once, but twice, were world championships decided on extremely dogy collisions between the two men.
This is discussed in an interview between Jackie Stewart and Senna in which Stewart (possibly the most arrogant Scotsman ever to have set foot on planet earth) challenges the fact that Senna has had more accidents than all of the previous World Champions put together. Perhaps deliberately Senna responds modestly and calls him Stewart (in what looks like a put down that would have stuck in old big heads craw).
But the reason for the question is fundamental to the nature of Senna himself. His sense of invincibility comes from his deep set belief in God, and this core motif is an important insight into the man and his motivation.
God should probably have been credited as a supporting actor role in the film.
What’s interesting is that virtually nothing of his private life is discussed in the movie. Not even his brief relationship with, and engagement to, a 15 year old girl. Because this is a film single-mindedly about man, machine and God.
The third reel which deals largely with his death and his legacy is heart rending. The footage leading up to the ill fated moment at Imola in 1994 when God deserts him is so nerve-shredding that you cannot bear to see what is coming. But when you do it is so brief and so brutal that it’s gone before you know it. There are no reruns, no slo-mo, no gratuity.
He just dies. And we move on. (Fighting back tears).
Ironically to the sight of Prost as pall bearer as a nation grieves and then, in the credits, we see that Prost is a Trustee of the Senna Foundation.
Ironic or poetic? It’s hard to say.
No big budget pomp and circumstance, no overblown hero worshiping, just a right good story, well told and gripping from first frame to last.
So, fork out your hard earned cash and visit one of the limited number of cinemas where you can catch this wonderful film in what will almost certainly be a very brief run.
Oh, and not once do you hear either Damon Hill or Nigel Mansell utter a single word.
Another good reason to go.