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Senna (2011)

20 Feb

In a bid to escape from the (unfortunately enjoyable) clawed clutches of eighties horror sequels, livewithfilm decided to make its return to blogging with an acclaimed modern documentary. As far a cry from It’s Alive II: It Lives Again as this film-fan could envision, Senna has remained an exciting prospect for some time. Even though livewithfilm tries to steer clear of qualifying films purely on their respective nods from various awards ceremonies, Senna arrives with great stock, having recently nabbed awards for best editing and documentary at the BAFTAs. On the subject of the British awards, an event traditionally recognised as a celebration of home-grown cinema, there were some glaring omissions in this year’s nominations. That Lynne Ramsey’s We Need to Talk About Kevin has been omitted from the majority of Oscar categories is one thing, but the snubbing of Ramsey by BAFTA seems highly unfortunate. Just when the British film industry is searching for interesting directors to bridge the gap between art and commercialism, to leave Ramsay without recognition seems a poor move.

Rant over, back to Senna! Asif Kapadia’s documentary charts the rise and ultimate downfall of Brazillian F1 driver Ayrton Senna. Following him through his three world championship wins, Senna also focuses on the driver’s personal battles. Confronting the political hierarchy of the sport and fellow driver Alain Proust, Aryton Senna has become revered as a fearless and unprecedented racing talent.

From the outset, Livewithfilm will admit that it cannot abide motor racing. Therefore, perhaps the greatest strength of Kapadia’s film was that such an inhibition was lost on the first lap. That the abiding focus remained on the intriguing and charismatic figure of Ayrton Senna rather than the sport in which he competed meant that the documentary was able to rise above such associations. The collection of material is undoubtedly impressive, the dedicated editorial work of Kapadia intricately piecing together expansive reams of footage to create a definitive exploration of the period. Yet all technical fluency aside, Senna unfortunately remains somewhat of a passé piece of documentary filmmaking. Whilst the warmth exuded by Ayrton is conveyed with great passion, livewithfilm remained consistently interested rather than fascinated. Often playing rather like a television film, the documentary falters when it comes to qualifying its existence as a piece of theatrical exposé. When compared with contemporary successes such as Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Grizzly Man or Cave of Forgotten Dreams, the lack of purpose in Kapadia’s film becomes most evident. Yes Ayrton was a talented and generous individual but does this qualify a feature length investigation, especially in a media dependant age in which his life has already been played out to many million strong television audiences.