I have never understood the allure of car racing. Hulking men squeezed into coffin-sized cars speeding in circles - what exactly is the point? But even a non-believer like me was moved by the poetry of Senna - Asif Kapadia's award winning documentary on the Brazilian racecar driver Ayrton Senna, a three-time Formula One World Champion, who died in a tragic accident at 34.
Senna emerged on the world stage in 1984. In a staggering display of skill and defying the capabilities of the car he was in, Senna sped from the back to second place. Four years later, he won his first world championship in Japan. Senna was aggressively competitive - the film details his bitter rivalry with the reigning French champion Alain Prost who we are repeatedly told was a master at playing politics. But Senna was also deeply spiritual (he spoke often in interviews about his relationship with God). It didn't hurt that he was staggeringly beautiful with an extraordinary grace that ennobled his sport. As Dana Stevens put it in Slate, Senna 'was a tortured poet behind the wheel, deliberately naïve about the politics of racing but fiercely devoted to coming in first'.
Using footage from Formula One archives, director Kapadia immerses us into Senna's dizzying world. Some of the complex rules about pole position, chicanes and safe routes, went over my head. But Kapadia, his writer Manish Pandey and his editors Chris King and Gregers Sall create a compelling portrait of an incredible man. By the time the film ends, as it must, in a ball of smashed car parts and Senna's punctured body, you feel like you have known the man. It's impossible to not be moist-eyed as you see him speak about living a long life. It's heartbreaking to hear him say: "My life hopefully will go for long…I have plenty of time."