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‘Ferrari’: A High-Octane Biodrama About the Italian Racing Magnate

@Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari in crowd Photo Credit Eros Hoagland

Sex, speed, and subterfuge are the key protagonists in this high-octane biographical drama about Italian race-car impresario Enzo Ferrari (1898-1988).

Well, it’s not exactly a life-long biopic; it covers only a few months in Ferrari’s life: that crucial period in 1957 when the reclusive auto magnate was teetering on the brink of catastrophe both in business and at home—or to be more exact. his two homes, one with his wife Laura and another with his mistress Lina Lardi. Here’s the backstory: With Laura, he had a son Dino who died of muscular dystrophy at 24. With Lina, he had a son Piero, who appears as a 12-year-old in the film. Piero, now 78, is the vice chair of the Ferrari company.

Directed by Michael Mann from a script by Troy Kennedy Martin, Ferrari the film is based on Brock Yates’s 1991 biography Enzo Ferrari: The Man, the Cars, the Races, the Machine. The film by Neon, which debuts on Christmas, stars the aptly named Adam Driver as a 59-year-old Enzo Ferrari, Penelope Cruz as his wife, and Shailene Woodley as his younger mistress.

Both Enzo and Laura are portrayed as steely, single-minded individuals with a fierce determination to have their own way on or off the race track. Lina, by contrast, presents herself as a younger, somewhat naïve character, but one who is equally determined to assert herself as the mother of Piero, the love child she conceived with Enzo.

Penelope Cruz as Laura Ferrari, Photo Credit Lorenzo Sisti

@Penelope Cruz as Laura Ferrari, Photo Credit Lorenzo Sisti

Most of the film is set in May 1957 during the Mille Miglia auto race, a thousand-mile competition that turned many public roads in southern Italy into a speedway. Here’s a capsule summary of what happened: Not far from the finish line near Brescia, the Ferrari driver, Alfonso de Portago, blew a tire, causing his car to catapult out of control, killing himself, his navigator, and ten spectators, five of whom were children. Both Ferrari and the tire manufacturer were charged with manslaughter but the case was finally dismissed four years later.

But the bloody aftermath of this accident is not the focus of Ferrari the film, which instead trains its lens on the deeply personal lives of Ferrari and the women in his life. By juxtaposing heart-stopping scenes from the racetrack with equally intense scenes from the bedroom and kitchen, Mann creates an atmosphere of tension and mayhem that keeps viewers on the edge of their cockpits, deeply engaged in the action. Since Ferrari’s cameras have been installed within the race cars themselves, the viewers become surrogate co-pilots, experiencing every turn, skid, and collision as from the driver’s seat.

By contrast, the domestic scenes are shot in conventional mid-range or close-up style, allowing viewers to reflect on the action with just the right level of intensity—close enough to be engaged but far enough to be objective though never disinterested.

Ferrari, Shailene Woodley as Lina Lardi_Photo credit Lorenzo Sisti

@Shailene Woodley as Lina Lardi, Photo credit Lorenzo Sisti

Kudos to Mann and his colleagues for this exquisitely wrought film, with high-caliber production values that keep viewers focused ultimately on the inner conflicts being experienced by his characters. Mann’s earlier work had been described by one critic as “abundantly energetic in its precision and variety” and “psychologically layered”—qualities that “Ferrari” here displays in abundance.

Mann was quoted in an Inside Total Film podcast that he instinctively knew Adam Driver was the right choice for the lead role as Enzo Ferrari. “There was something about how he’s lived life,” he said. “He has a raw ambition, an artistic ambition, and real ferocity behind that drive to really do this work, do it really well, and really get it. You see it all over, it’s a transformational performance in how he moves, how he walks, the weight, how he breathes.”

Penelope Cruz should likewise be lauded for the almost instinctual way she embodies the character of Laura Ferrari, a woman Cruz understood to be “difficult and crazy and scary” and suffering from deep depression. Cruz was quoted in USA Today as saying’ “I went to the market Laura shopped at for food, I saw the financial books she kept for the company, and I went to her apartment. That place gave me so much information about the sadness she lived with,” a reference to her husband’s infidelity and to the death of their son Dino.

On the surface, it would seem that the real action of this film is on the race track, culminating with the gory and graphic scenes of the Mille Miglia disaster. But thanks to the stellar performances here, it is abundantly clear that the race track is but a metaphor for the tumultuous strivings of the speed demons within us all.

Patrick Dempsey as Piero Taruffi Photo Credit Lorenzo Sisti

@Patrick Dempsey as Piero Taruffi Photo Credit Lorenzo Sisti

Rating: A+

Check out more of Edward’s articles. 

Here’s the trailer of the film.

Edward Moran
Edward Moran
Edward Moran began his journalistic career many decades ago as a theater and cinema reviewer for Show Business and the New York Theater Review. More recently he contributed film reviews to and Movie Sleuth. His writings have appeared in publications as diverse as the Times Literary Supplement, Publishers Weekly, the Paris Review, and the Massachusetts Review. Moran also edited a memoir by Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Christine Choy. He served as literary advisor to her film Hyam Plutzik: American Poet, which was the keynote film in the American Perspectives series at the 2007 Zebra Poetry Film Festival in Berlin.


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