Ferrari

The Ferrari name bears an unmistakable grandeur; when people think of fast cars, they are bound to think of Ferrari, a brand whose yellow logo of the Cavallino Rampante is just as iconic, perhaps even more so, as the vehicles themselves. Its impact is such that its excellence is taken as a given—Ferrari does not need to be the best in innovation, nor produce the fastest cars to dominate in a popularity contest.

Of course, as with most companies, its success was not a straight race to the finish line. Michael Mann’s 2023 biopic Ferrari focuses on the man behind the name, specifically Enzo Ferrari’s complicated family life and the events leading up to the 1957 Mille Miglia.

From the beginning of the film, we are thrust into the primary drama. Enzo (Adam Driver) returns home late, much to the disappointment of his estranged wife Laura (Penélope Cruz), and their exchange not only reveals an animosity, but also Laura’s suspicions of Enzo’s unfaithfulness. Cruz plays the character with a fiery energy. She’s volatile but also passionate, passionate in the sense that she holds little to no remorse for her fits of anger towards Enzo.

We soon learn that Enzo is in a dire financial situation and that he must sell more cars to keep Ferrari in business. Meanwhile, Laura discovers that Enzo owns a secret residence occupied by a woman and her young child. Not long after the discovery, Laura realises that Enzo has been leading a double life, acting as a romantic partner to a woman named Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley) and a father to his biological son Piero (Giuseppe Festinese). Laura is deeply affected by the situation, particularly so because of what she thinks it will mean for the memory of her and Enzo’s late son, Dino – Piero will become the new heir of Ferrari, while Dino will be largely forgotten.

Legacy is a resounding theme in this film, and Mann wants us to think about the importance of preserving the memories of those we lose too soon. This idea is extended to the race car drivers, who are repeatedly shown putting their lives on the line for Ferrari to come out on top.

At times it feels like we are watching a modern gladiator story. This is not to glorify the risk that these drivers take, but rather to convey the thrill of being in the driver’s seat. It’s a good thing, as it helps viewers to understand what these drivers gain from the experience of being pawns in the cutthroat industry of competitive racing. For the drivers, their vehicles are their weapons, and Mann knows how to employ the right combination of sound and camera angles to depict these weapons with a kind of ferocious majesty.

If the overriding trait of Laura is her emotional volatility, for Enzo it is his emotional obscureness. Early in the film, we see Enzo overcome with sadness as he speaks to the deceased Dino at the cemetery. Here, Mann depicts Enzo with humanity, a portrayal that persists for the remainder of the film, but not without clashing with the cold, goal-driven persona that Enzo embodies in other instances. In one scene, Enzo witnesses one of his drivers suffer a horrific accident on the racetrack. He immediately turns his attention to acquiring a replacement, as if indifferent to the driver’s prospects of survival.

One could interpret the film as being about the consequences of ambition. Such a reading would explain Enzo’s intermittent coldness, particularly in the moments where Driver plays the character with a brazen self-righteousness. Even so, I do not believe Mann aimed for this reading, as it is clear that he intends for us to think of Enzo in more complex terms—as a broken individual, whose actions are explained more so by the desire to live life purposefully as opposed to prioritising careerism over all else. In an emotionally charged scene, Enzo exclaims “I know more about nephritis and dystrophy than cars”, revealing the toll his late son’s condition has had on him, and the crisis of identity suffered as a result.

Although this exploration of the character is a welcome one, the film does not do enough to explicate what we, as an audience, are supposed to take away from the experience. Furthermore, speaking about the film as a whole, not all of what we see exists for a particularly good reason. Within the opening ten minutes, we observe Laura, a character whom we are just being introduced to, fire a gun at Enzo and only narrowly miss him. I doubt such an occurrence happened in real life, yet it was included anyway. I suppose this is because drama sells. If a scene isn’t made to be more gripping, it is stylised to the point of indulgence. In the pinnacle final race, just after one of Enzo’s drivers approaches a corner, the camera fixates on a mascaron that decorates one of the nearby buildings. Perhaps it is meant to be regarded ominously, but even so, these artistic touches seem wasted here. Adam Driver is wonderful in the role, but good acting cannot save a script that seems distracted by its own gimmicks.

And this leads us to the film’s primary flaw. The film does well in contextualising the characters and revealing the circumstances behind their actions, but it falls short of delivering an overarching message. There is no shortage of metaphor, symbolism, and thought-provoking dialogue, yet the film does not use them to its advantage, and what we are left with is an unsure mix of fast-cars and family drama, sprinkled with intellectually deep but narratively unanchored musings on what it all means.

All things considered, Ferrari does more right than it does wrong. Entertainment is all but assured, and even if the gorgeous cinematography and effective sound design isn’t enough, the active spectator may be able to piece together their own interpretation of the film’s final message.

Speaking of interpretations, here’s what I took away from the film. It’s about people – those who contributed to the creation of a company that has seemingly become metaphysical, a company that in today’s day and age is just as much an idea as it is an historical corporation. It was Dino who inspired Enzo to innovate (as we see in the film’s flashbacks), and it was Enzo’s drivers, people who risked their lives for the glory of the company, who made Enzo’s ambitions a reality. There is a moment in the film where Enzo poses with a woman in front of a Ferrari. She is blocking the Cavallino Rampante, and Enzo shifts her away so that the cameras can get a shot of it. The irony may be lost on Enzo, but it is not lost on the critical spectator.

In more ways than one, Michael Mann’s film is much like the Ferrari cars. Its bells and whistles and sleek design may impress most, but what commands less attention is what lies beneath the bonnet. If the film’s engine roars loud enough, entertainment is nevertheless assured.

8/10

Viewed at Cinemax, Europa SC, Banská Bystrica, Slovakia
Written by Ashley Roohizadegan
Proofread by Lucia Roohizadegan

Ashley Roohizadegan

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