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“Senna,” reviewed

“Senna,” reviewed (photo)

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I don’t know anything about Formula One racing but the superb documentary “Senna” about famous F1 driver Ayrton Senna is a reminder that the phrase “ignorance is bliss” applies to the world of documentaries, too. Not knowing what’s going to happen in this movie makes it a very suspenseful story, set in this fascinatingly unfamiliar world of intrigue and danger.

That world is the Formula One circuit of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the Brazilian Senna and his French arch-rival Alain Prost battled for supremacy of the sport, first as competitors and then as even more competitive teammates at McLaren Racing. Their styles were totally different: Senna, a devout Catholic, put his faith in God and his own intuition; Proust, nicknamed “The Professor,” outsmarted opponents with clever gamesmanship. Their wars are legendary in the racing world, but they’re fresh and exciting to a neophyte like me, and I was riveted by every new twist and turn.

“Senna,” directed by Asif Kapadia, depicts its subject life in unique fashion. The film is told entirely through archival footage of Senna both on and off the track. In old interviews, Senna tells us his life story: his early years on the go-kart circuit, his departure from Brazil at a young age to compete in Europe, his struggles against the political and possibly corrupt F1 brass, and his dream of becoming the world’s greatest racing driver. Family, friends, rivals, and journalists provide contemporary interviews about Senna but they’re only heard and never seen. Appropriately for a documentary about racing, the biggest effect that choice has on the film is pace; Kapadia never has to take time out from a race to pause for commentary, because the commentary is layered right on top of the action. The result is about as immersive as documentaries get. Senna’s own words put us inside his mind, and the thrilling cockpit point-of-view footage from the Monaco Grand Prix put us inside his car.

I’ve avoided discussing the end of Senna’s career and his rivalry with Prost even though they’re matters of historical record because, frankly I didn’t know them myself when I sat down to watch the film (if you’re curious before you see the documentary, just read the first paragraph of Senna’s Wikipedia page). Of course, Kapadia’s formal framework for the film suggests from the start a subject that cannot speak for himself and as “Senna” progresses, the director inserts more and more portends of doom: Prost threatening to drive his enemy off the track, Senna hopefully wondering what life has in store for him after he retires from racing. Slowly, the POV shots from inside Senna’s car feel less and less exhilarating, and more and more ominous. When the end comes, it is a devastating tragedy. The film reminds us that there is something beautiful about a man achieving his dream, and something so tragic when that dream ultimately destroys him.

“Senna” opens in limited release this Friday. If you see it, we want to know what you think. Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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