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Atlantic Film Festival, Day Three: ‘Senna’ and ‘Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy’

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Directed by Asif Kapadia

Though Canadians as a whole tend not to be all that interested in F1 racing, it does continue to be an immensely popular sport in other parts of the world. Top drivers such as German Michael Schuhmacher enjoy immense fame in their countries of origin and are celebrated as heroes.

Ayrton Senna, one of the sport’s biggest and brightest names is the focus of Asif Kapadia’s aptly named documentary Senna. The film chronicles Senna’s first successes as a go-cart driver and eventual ascent into mega stardom as an inspired F1 driver as well as the events and backroom politics that lead to Senna’s untimely death on the racecar track (not a spoiler – it’s in the film’s official synopsis and also, it’s a documentary. You can’t spoil history). The film chooses to forgo any kind of in-depth look into his personal life, rather focusing on what went on while he was on the track and behind the scenes. Kapadia also displays a tremendous trust in his audience by forgoing any sort of exposition or introduction to the world of F1 driving. The film is made up completely from footage from Senna’s races, tv coverage and interviews, and Senna’s home videos. The most interesting portions of footage in the film are taken by an on-board camera mounted on Senna’s car during some of his races. This provides us with the kind of perspective on the race that is second only to that of Senna himself.

A large majority of the movie focuses purely on Senna directly. Most of the time when we’re not seeing things from Senna’s perspective we are seeing him. Luckily enough, Senna’s personality makes him a very engaging and exciting subject. Footage of Senna charming tv presenters make it very obvious why Senna was so beloved by everyone, not just hardcore fans of the racing sport. Senna’s struggle with the politics of the sport and especially with his co-driver at McLaren and eventual rival, Alain Prost are genuinely affecting and as the events leading up to Senna’s death start unfolding, we are filled with dread. We know how it will end and the anticipation makes it that much more emotionally affecting. To his credit, Kapadia doesn’t abuse the fact that the outcome is well-known and we get no maudlin “if only we had known” type commentary.

In fact, the commentary by people directly involved in Senna’s personal and professional life, and by Senna himself is featured in the film as unobtrusively as possible. Kapadia simply lets it play out over the footage seen on screen and thus manages to overcome “talking heads” syndrome which has been running wild in contemporary documentaries. By trusting his audience and focusing on the most interesting and exciting parts of Ayrton Senna’s life, Kapadia has crafted a documentary that is every bit as exciting as a suspense thriller.

Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy

Directed by Rob Heydon

Screenplay by Rob Heydon

Following the cult that developed after the release of Trainspotting, it’s certainly curious that no other Irvine Welsh stories have been adapted to the screen considering film was released in 1996, 15 years ago. In Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy, director Rob Heydon claims that his film is in no way inspired by or meant to be a sequel to Trainspotting. For the most part, Rob Heydon succeeds in separating his film from the other. Unfortunately, the major aspect that separates Trainspotting from Ecstasy is that the former is a brilliant piece of filmmaking, whereas the latter is mediocre at best.

Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy tells the story of Lloyd (Adam Sinclair), an aging club hopper from Leith in Scotland engaged in some shady drug business. When Lloyd meets Heather (Kristin Kreuk), an unhappily married Canadian living and working (at a anti-drugs campaign office of all places) in Leith, the two develop an immediate attraction to each other that leads them through Leith’s ecstasy scene.

What made Trainspotting so great was the incredible dark humour that accompanied an at times downright bleak story. While Ecstasy does have a couple pretty good moments, for the most part, the dialogue is stilted and artificial. The wooden performance given especially by Kristin Kreuk does very little to better those lines in any way. The character arcs are sudden and mostly unbelievable. And for a film that is set against the fast paced ecstasy scene, it feels dreadfully long and lagging. Having not read Irvine Welsh’s original stories, I don’t know how faithful the script is to the original source but I hope for Welsh’s sake that they changed the dialogue quite a bit.

Whether or not Rob Heydon’s film wants it, Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy will undoubtedly be compared to Trainspotting. Unfortunately for Heydon, those comparisons will do little for his film.

– Laura Holtebrinck