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Film / Senna

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Senna is a 2010 film directed by Asif Kapadia.

It is a documentary about the life of Formula One race car driver Ayrton Senna (1960-1994). More specifically, it is a documentary about the racing career of Ayrton Senna. There is a brief aside about how he came from a wealthy Brazilian family, there is another brief aside about his charitable work helping poor Brazilian children, and there are a couple of short clips of Senna with girlfriends. Otherwise there is nothing about his personal life.

Instead the film covers his Formula One career, starting with his big splash at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1984, when he seemed to be on the verge of winning when the race was stopped on account of rain. Senna joins the McLaren team in 1988 and becomes teammates with Formula One world champion Alain Prost. The two soon become fierce rivals, with Senna winning the championship in 1988, Prost taking it back in 1989 after Senna is controversially disqualified at the Japanese Grand Prix, and Senna winning again in 1990 and 1991. Senna joins the Williams team in 1994 and expresses concern about the handling and mechanical characteristics of his Williams car, comments which foreshadow his tragic death when he drives into a wall at the San Marino Grand Prix, on May 1, 1994.


  • Awakening the Sleeping Giant: The first half of the film focuses mostly on the Senna-Prost intra-team rivalry at the dominant McLaren Honda team, and then when Prost leaves for Ferrari. Then it cuts to a shot of Frank Williams and the Williams-Renault team testing their gizmo-filled 'active' suspension car before the dominant 1992 championship for Nigel Mansell.
  • Book Ends: The film opens with footage of a young Senna competing in amateur go-cart racing in the late 1970s. At the end of the film, Senna is asked in an interview segment about what was his happiest time in racing. He says that his happiest moments in racing were his go-cart races, where there was no money and no politics and "pure racing". This interview is juxtaposed with the same footage used at the beginning of the film. Then the movie ends.
  • Call-Back: The footage of Senna's funeral shows various mourners, such as Xuxa, Alain Prost, and others. Each of those clips are then followed by clips from earlier in the movie of those same people with Senna in happy times—Xuxa with Senna onstage for the New Year's broadcast, Prost on a victory platform with Senna.
  • Documentary: Of the racing career and tragic death of three-time Formula One champion Ayrton Senna.
  • Good-Times Montage: After Senna wins the 1991 championship and returns in triumph to Brazil.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Jean-Marie Balestre is presented in a rather arrogant and villainous light for a while, but when during a driver's meeting Senna raises driver's concerns about the safety of some chicanes, he immediately puts the matter to a vote. When the drivers outvote the organisors, Balestre orders that their wishes be followed immediately.
  • Heroes Gone Fishing: Home movie clips show Senna relaxing on a speedboat at home. Sadly after Roland Ratzenberger is killed at Imola, Professor Sid Watkins asks him why he doesn't walk away from racing and they can go fishing together.
  • Mononymous Biopic Title: Senna
  • Mood Whiplash: A montage summing up the peak of Senna's career in 1991 and his great successes comes to an abrupt end with a hard crash in Mexico City when the car overturns, and the narration at the time recalls how the car 'bit him hard'.
  • Narrator: There is no single narrator. Instead there are a series of interviewees (audio only, no Talking Heads) who talk about Senna's life and career. Senna's own voice is heard as well, in the form of old stock interviews.
  • Not So Above It All: The carnival brings out Senna's more mischievous side as he tells a reporter "Formula 1 is so square, tonight is carnival!".
  • P.O.V. Cam: Several POV clips from Ayrton Senna's perspective are used to show what it looks like to race a Formula One car. The most terrifying is the one that documents the last seconds of Senna's life, which cuts off right before Senna careens off the track and into the wall.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Alain Prost after 1989 walks out of McLaren for Ferrari saying that working with Ayrton and Ron Dennis is impossible.
  • Stock Footage: The entire film. There are no establishing shots and no talking heads. Instead the whole movie consists of news coverage of Senna's life, with some Senna family home movies mixed in.
  • Talking Heads: There are no traditional talking heads, but there are a few Stock Footage clips of Ayrton Senna TV interviews that basically serve this purpose, as Senna talks about his career.
  • Think of the Censors!: Invoked by Ayrton Senna himself. When sexy Brazilian TV personality Xuxa asks Senna on a New Year's Eve broadcast what he'd like most, he grins and says "Censored, but I just want happiness." He then whispers into Xuxa's ear, and she covers him in kisses. (A subsequent clip indicates that they dated for a time.)
  • Verbal Irony: This being a documentary with Senna's death a Foregone Conclusion, it's tragicially ironic when Senna is shown in an interview saying that "My life, hopefully, will still go for a long time."
  • Victorious Loser: At the end of 1993 Senna has lost the championship to Prost, but still wins the final race of the year and the last for McLaren before his fateful move to Williams.