The true richness in being

Michael Mann on Troy Kennedy Martin, Sydney Pollack and Massimo Cantini Parrini's costumes for Ferrari

by Anne-Katrin Titze

New York Film Festival Artistic Director Dennis Lim with Ferrari director Michael Mann and stars Adam Driver, Penélope Cruz and Gabriel Leone
New York Film Festival Artistic Director Dennis Lim with Ferrari director Michael Mann and stars Adam Driver, Penélope Cruz and Gabriel Leone Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Michael Mann’s Ferrari (screenplay by Troy Kennedy Martin, based on the book Enzo Ferrari: The Man, the Cars, the Races by Brock Yates), starring Adam Driver (as Enzo Ferrari) and Penélope Cruz (his wife Laura) with Gabriel Leone (Alfonso De Portago), Shailene Woodley (Lina Lardi), Patrick Dempsey (Piero Taruffi), and Jack O’Connell (Peter Collins) was the Closing Night Gala selection of the 61st New York Film Festival.

Michael Mann on the costumes: “You want to put on that period wardrobe. So that’s terribly important. The true richness to me is in being.”
Michael Mann on the costumes: “You want to put on that period wardrobe. So that’s terribly important. The true richness to me is in being.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Costume designer Massimo Cantini Parrini is the go-to person when it comes to clothing characters of folktale or legend (Matteo Garrone’s Pinocchio and Tale Of Tales; Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm; Susanna Nicchiarelli’s Chiara; Joe Wright’s Cyrano; and for good measure, Paolo Virzì’s The Leisure Seeker). Enzo Ferrari definitely fits into the larger-than-life category and his conservative tweed suits, pale yellow sweater vests and suspenders hide a maniac addicted to speed and winning.

You might take the black and white races at the start of Mann’s film for archival footage, were it not for the sudden recognition of the familiar face of Adam Driver as the driver of the car. The Enzo when the plot really begins is much older and grey haired, the year is 1957, and he and his wife Laura (Penélope Cruz) are mourning the untimely death of their son the year prior.

Professionally, Enzo is hellbent on show competitor Maserati who is the king in the racing world. Privately, he juggles a second family with Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley) and son Piero, who is soon to be confirmed. If the boy will carry the name Ferrari is up in the air, because although everyone in Modena knows about the relationship, it is still a secret to Laura, who is also Enzo’s business partner and thus holds great power in the company.

Adam Driver plays Enzo Ferrari
Adam Driver plays Enzo Ferrari Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

In the Fifties, and for at least two more decades, the sport of racing was “a deadly passion, a terrible joy” as Enzo put it. It was highly dangerous and the drivers regularly wrote letters to their loved ones in case they crashed and burned. Alfonso De Portago (Gabriel Leone), Spanish nobility and seventh in line to the throne, wants nothing more than to drive for Ferrari’s team, while Piero Taruffi (played by Patrick Dempsey who is a real-life racing champion) sets his mind to finally winning the Mille Miglia, the famed open-road motor race established in 1927.

Enzo Ferrari is looking for a business partner because of financial difficulties and Fiat, against whom he holds a grudge since his youth, may be the ticket now. “Jaguar races to sell cars,” he states, while he sells cars to race. And he needs to sell more of them.

Each morning, Enzo goes to the cemetery bringing flowers to the family mausoleum of his father, brother, and son. His mother doesn’t mince words: “The wrong son died.” Death is all around, but things need to be built for the future. To his young son, Enzo has the following words of advice:” When a thing works better, usually it looks better to the eye.” Ferrari, the film, definitely looks and is exciting to the eye.

At the Ferrari press conference the afternoon before the New York Film Festival Closing Night Gala premiere, I asked Michael Mann about the costumes.

Penélope Cruz plays Enzo’s wife Laura
Penélope Cruz plays Enzo’s wife Laura Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze: You mentioned that Modena has a history in the textile industry and I was wondering about the clothing for Enzo [Ferrari]. Did he have his clothes made in Modena? Did you use any local fabrics for his yellow sweaters and his overall very engineered clothes?

Michael Mann: I don’t mean this in a pejorative sense, the costume - when all of us put on clothes we feel a certain way. And you want to put on that period wardrobe. So that’s terribly important. The true richness to me is in being. In Penelope being Laura [Ferrari], Gabriel being [Alfonso] De Portago and Adam being Enzo. And the clothes can make you feel a certain way.

Colour-wise, there’s monochrome through this film because it’s the importance. If you think about Laura’s bedroom, it’s all of one colour. I mean Enzo’s bedroom and Laura walks into it and Enzo’s there, it’s all one colour, because I want your attention focused on what’s happening on these two actors’ faces.

And De Portago we know from a lot of historical pictures how he dressed. He was described as looking like Marlon Brando from The Wild One when he gets off the train. And he’s seventh in line for the Spanish throne, but his demeanour was like that. That was very particularly modelled on the historical De Portago.

Earlier in the press conference Michael Mann spoke about the origins of the project:

Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari wearing the yellow sweater
Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari wearing the yellow sweater

MM: We started with Sydney Pollack. Sydney Pollack, myself and Troy Kennedy Martin, who wrote this, I think, brilliant screenplay. We began it together. I had known Troy for quite a while beforehand. He wrote some television, Italian Job, terrific guy. So it began at that point.

What was so interesting to me about it was the compression of all the dynamics of these tempestuous lives in three months. So everything about who they were, which was the exact opposite of a linear biopic. I wouldn’t have been interested in a linear biopic. Particularly this drama that you’ve just seen in its compression which excited me.

He continued:

MM: It was based on a book, it takes a section of the book and then it evolves way beyond the book. I’ve known Piero Ferrari for about 20, 25 years. Spent a lot of time, come to know a lot about Laura, about Lina Lardi, you know, her niece, everything about life in Modena.

And to try to get as acculturated into everything Modenese as possible. What happened over the years was that the more specific one got into their culture and these people and their psyche, I think, the more universal the whole picture became.

About creating Enzo Ferrari:

Gabriel Leone plays Alfonso De Portago
Gabriel Leone plays Alfonso De Portago Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

MM: It’s everything from biography to understanding who he was at 19, bereft and abject and in Turin, in the rain, been turned down by Fiat and coming to a very romantic decision. Which is, he asks himself, who shall I be in this world?

And decides to become a romantic figure of a race car driver. From that to Adam and I being in Enzo’s study, which has been untouched since he died in Piero’s house. And looking at his diaries, his handwriting and the watch he preferred. So it’s everything; it’s sensorial input from objects, it’s understanding the culture he’s in. Having almost a tactile input from all the objects and everything all around him.

Michael Mann summed it up: He [Enzo] said, Italy will forgive murderers or forgive thieves, but it won’t forgive a success.

Ferrari opens in the US on December 25 and in the UK on December 26.

The 61st New York Film Festival ran from Friday, September 29 through Sunday, October 15.

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