Venice 2023: Michael Mann's Ferrari is not a powerful car, but a solid vehicle

Michael Mann's Ferrari is not a powerful car, but a solid vehicle (review)

By telling Enzo Ferrari, Michael Mann repaints his romanticism in the colors of a Mediterranean melodrama, in a film with elegant classicism, but which makes us miss the pioneering filmmaker we love so much.

New Michael Mann – his first since Hacker, in 2015 – released directly on Prime Video without going through the cinema box in France. It's a bit sad, for a director who has always sought to take the 7th art to new aesthetic territories. But we can also see a form of logic in it: after all, Mann is one of the main architects of this great blurring of the boundaries between cinema and television, he who made series take a giant leap in the 80s with the revolutionary Miami ViceTwo cops in Miami

From the Ferrari Daytona that Sonny Crockett drove there to the Ferrari that concerns us here, there is only one step. And three decades of determination for Mann, who had a hard time putting together this project (the film is dedicated to screenwriter Troy Kennedy Martin, who died in 2009!), almost shot it several times, without success. We feared that this dream project would only resemble a film ghost upon arrival, as is often the case with the sea serpent projects of great aging authors. But there was no time to daydream about Sonny Crockett: Ferrari started ! And we immediately breathe with relief when we realize that we are not watching a TV movie…

Michael Mann looks back on 30 years of Ferrari manufacturing

We were a little scared, to be honest. Because Mann is a “hindered” filmmaker, having more and more difficulty getting his projects financed, because he no longer works with the big studios which allowed him to pursue his visions to the end, because he dream of realizing Ferrari for three decades (with Hugh Jackman, with Christian Bale, but it failed each time), for all these reasons, we feared that the dream project only collapses at the finish line and resembles nothing more than a ghost of a film, as is often the case with the sea serpent projects of great aging filmmakers.

Phew! Ferrari holds up. It is certainly not a supersonic car, but a solid construction. In a handful of introductory scenes, swift and elegant, Enzo Ferrari instantly joins the club of Mannian heroes: this caste of supermen living according to their own rules, very far from those of ordinary mortals. Romantics who hide their death urges and their quest for the absolute behind a professional ethic of reinforced concrete.

The film recounts a crucial year in the auto manufacturer's career: 1957, a year after the death of his young son Dino, when he faces the possible bankruptcy of his company, which he must save at all costs. his cars the Mille Miglia (a crazy race across Italy which threatens at every moment to turn into a collective massacre) and that his wife Laura (Penélope Cruz) discovers that he is hiding the existence of another son from her.

Played by Adam Driver (the official Italian of US cinema since House of Gucci), Ferrari tries to mourn Dino's death by sending other young men close to death in cars that look like metal coffins. The Italian press compares him to Saturn devouring his child. He will have to get out of these intimate and professional impasses to hope to see his name go down in history. Along the way, Mann draws parallels between this obsessive engineer who seeks to build ever more powerful and perfect cars, and the manic aesthete that he himself is. “When something works better, says Ferrari, it usually looks better..”

If the filmmaker is passionate here about this race against death which is part of the existential quest, he is no longer guided by this postmodern intoxication and this temptation of abstraction which made him famous. He is not trying to pirate the period film, as in Public Enemies. He also does not find – and this is undoubtedly the main weakness of the film – the epic grandeur of Ali, this historical scale which would have allowed us to truly understand why what Enzo Ferrari accomplishes here is so great.

The film is first and foremost a marital drama, bordering on melodrama. The cars rumble in the distance but the main thing is concentrated on the intimate sphere, a bit as if, in Heat, the tense moments of private life had ended up supplanting the detective intrigue for good. Is this the air of Italy? The filmmaker is intoxicated with opera, vintage Mediterranean scents, sketches the death-defying pilots like fifties thugs preparing a heist, lingers on the old school elegance of an Enzo Ferrari shown as a lord of Modena… You have to get used to it: the new Mann is all about retro pleasures.

Ferrariby Michael Mann, with Adam Driver, Penélope Cruz, Shailene Woodley… March 8, 2024 on Prime Video.

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