Ferrari Movie: A ‘Made in Italy” Biopic Showcases the Motor Valley  

Red Ferrari 575 M Maranello sports car

I’m not a fan of fast cars but the new Ferrari movie, released on Christmas Day 2023, had my heart racing. 

This new biopic by director/producer Michael Mann tells the story of Enzo Ferrari, a legend in motor racing and the manufacturing of luxury cars. 

His life wasn’t an easy ride, however, because his passions were split between three lovers: his wife, a mistress, and his business.

The movie is an adaptation of the 1991 book, Enzo Ferrari: The Man, the Cars, the Races, the Machine, by Brock Yates.

What drew me to the theater on the first day of its release was the setting of the film (much of which takes place in the city of Modena, in the region of Emilia Romagna) and my love of Italian cinema and culture.

The main protagonists of Ferrari

Enzo Ferrari

Enzo Ferrari at the wheel of a racing car in 1920 at age 22
Enzo Ferrari at the wheel of a racing car in 1920 at age 22 (credit: Wikipedia)

Enzo Ferrari (played by Adam Driver) was 49 years old when he founded the Italian sports car company that bears his name.

About a decade later, in the late 40s and 50s, the business he built with his wife was struggling financially. But as an ex-racer, he remained confident that the motor company’s racing success could turn things around. 

The Mille Miglia race of 1957 offered that possibility.

Laura Ferrari

Laura Ferrari (played by Penelope Cruz) was involved in the financial aspects of the family business. A strident woman, she was left reeling after the death of the couple’s son, Alfredo (Dino), who was to have been the heir to their kingdom.

Dino Ferrari, at age 15, and his father, Enzo Ferrari, photographed in 1947
Dino Ferrari, at age 15, and his father, Enzo Ferrari, photographed in 1947. Dino died at the age of 23. (credit: Wikipedia)

One movie reviewer commented that even though makeup artists tried to make Cruz look unattractive for the role, they failed at the attempt. Her performance is magnificent as a wife dealing with the loss of a son, and outraged by her husband’s infidelity. (As an aside, I just read that divorce wasn’t even legal in Italy until 1970.)

Lina Lardi

Lina Lardi, Ferrari’s patient mistress, is played by Shailene Woodley. After Enzo and Lina met during World War II, Lina became pregnant with Piero, who would later become Enzo’s only surviving son. She was eager for Enzo to acknowledge this son’s parentage.

Enzo shuttled between the two homes of his wife and lover trying to appease both women.

The race of 1957

Official poster of the 1957 race
Official poster of the 1957 race (Manifesto pubblicitario, Paolo Cassa, XXIV Mille Miglia, 1957)

The 1957 Mille Miglia was a highly competitive, 1000-mile round-trip race that started and ended in Brescia (in the northern region of Lombardy). For Ferrari, on the verge of bankruptcy, the stakes couldn’t have been higher.

About 300 cars participated, including teams representing two motor giants: Ferrari and Maserati. Some racers made the trip solo; others had navigators sitting beside them to help guide them along the circuitous route.

Most noteworthy was that this race—as opposed to ones that take place on the tracks used today—took place on a perilous course through public roads and streets. 

The winner was the car and driver that completed the race in the least amount of time. The film’s cinematography and the sound effects of the pulse pounding race left this viewer breathless.

(Because of the dangers that play out in the movie, this turned out to be the last race of its kind in Italy. The Mille Miglia was canceled three days after the ‘57 race ended.) 

So did I like the film?

Image of Enzo Ferrari projected at the Ferrari Museum (credit: Jerome Levine)
Image of Enzo Ferrari projected at the Ferrari Museum (credit: Jerome Levine)

I’m hesitant to include spoilers in this post so I’ll err on the side of caution, and not give away too much of the plot. 

My overall impressions:

The pace of this two hour, 11 minute period drama was glacial at first but midway through it “revved up” and I was transported to another time and place. 

The scenery across the ancient cities and lush countryside was stunning, and the staging and costuming made history come alive. 

Much of the movie was filmed on location in real places. For example, an interview with the director in Conde Nast Traveler noted that the family mausoleum in the movie was the actual one that belonged to the family. He went on to explain that the farmhouse where Lina and Piero supposedly lived was filmed in Maranello.

Adam Diver made me forget he was the obnoxious guy I saw on TV in Girls. He truly seemed to inhabit the mind, body and character of a man fueled by ambition and passion. At his workplace, a setting where racers and racing are revered, Enzo bore the honorific title of Il Commendatore” (The Commander) but his personal life was out of his control. 

Penelope Cruz made the resentment, sorrow and rage of a woman scorned totally understandable. Shailene Woodly was also excellent in her role as the mistress.

Ferrari essentially depicts a limited, one-year slice of Enzo Ferrari’s life (1957) leaving so much more to be discovered and understood. Mann said he chose that year because it was one of the most difficult periods of the main character’s life.

The film made me want to learn more about the man and his legacy.

List of other movie portrayals of the life of Enzo Ferrari

Watch the 2023 Ferrari movie trailer on YouTube:


Was the movie fact or fiction?

This terrific interview with Piero Ferrari, now 78 years old, separates what he says was true in the film from what he calls “poetic license.”

Piero Ferrari responds on YouTube


Dipping into the world of Ferrari in Emilia Romagna

Places in the movie
Places in the movie (credit:

Download map of of the Modena of Ferrari and Mann

A number of locations in Emilia Romagna allow motor and racing enthusiasts to delve into the life of the man and his accomplishments, and the brand.

The town of Maranello, which lies just south of Modena, is the home of the automotive giant. Car enthusiasts from around the world make pilgrimages to the Musei Ferrari (Ferrari Museum) located there to learn about the company’s history and see Formula 1 racing cars up close. The museum is located in the house where Enzo was born.

My son and husband at the museum
My son and husband at the museum in Modena (credit: Irene S. Levine)
Inside the Ferrari Museum
Inside the Ferrari Museum (credit: Jerome Levine)

Also in Marinella, a shuttle ferries visitors to the company’s actual factories and the Fiorano Test Circuit. The historic entrance hall to the complex is the same one that existed in 1947.

The Imola Circuit, located in Imola, Emilia Romagna, is officially called the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari. A site of many championship races, the track is named after Enzo and his son, Alfredo “Dino” Ferrari, an engineer who died an untimely death after struggling with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. More than a racing venue, it offers racetrack tours, walking tours and special programs listed on its website.

Foodies will want to keep an eye out for the famous chef who has a cameo role as the doorman at Hotel Canalgrande in the movie.

The Emilia Romagna website list other sites used as locations in the film, including:

  • The Modena train station (Piazza Dante Alighieri) with its unmistakable yellow facade;
  • The road in the area of Puianello (Quattro Castella, Reggio Emilia) and on the hills between Castelvetro and Maranello;
  • The straight stretch of the long Strada della Vittoria in Novellara (RE); and
  • The lagoons of Comacchio, along SP Argine Agosta (background of scenes of the passage of the Mille Miglia).

Emilia Romagna, a mecca for motor and racing enthusiasts, is nicknamed the “Motor Valley” due its spate of car and motorcycle manufacturers, racetracks, museums, collectors and motor-related special events.

The Motor Valley Fest, an ambitious outdoor motor festival, will be returning to Modena from May 2-5, 2024.

But Motor Valley is but one of many reasons to visit Emilia Romagna.

Learn more about the Motor Valley on YouTube



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