Driver's 'Ferrari' puts Venice race in higher gear

VENICE - The race for the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion was set to move into higher gear Thursday with a hotly tipped biopic about sports car supremo Enzo Ferrari starring Adam Driver and Penelope Cruz.

Driver brings some much-needed stardust to a festival whose red carpet is untypically low on celebrities this year, a casualty of an actors strike in Hollywood. 

"Ferrari" from director Michael Mann -- known for highly stylised and glossy thrillers like "Heat" and "Collateral" -- was given an exemption by the unions since it was made outside the studio system, allowing Driver to attend the premiere. 

The 39-year-old is one of the busiest men in Hollywood, juggling blockbuster roles in the Star Wars franchise alongside work with a who's who of top directors, from Ridley Scott to Noah Baumbach and Spike Lee.

Also building buzz is the premiere of "Dogman" by French director Luc Besson ("The Fifth Element", "Leon"), which is billed as a mind- and gender-bending tale of an abused boy finding refuge with a pack of dogs. 

It is said to feature another startling performance from Caleb Landry Jones, who won best actor at Cannes two years ago for "Nitram", about a mass shooting in Australia.

Besson, 64, is hoping for a comeback after a massive flop with 2017's "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" that all but bankrupted his production company, EuropaCorp. 

The losses wiped out the fortune it made with the "Taken" series and knocked Besson's hopes of competing with the Hollywood behemoths.  

He has also been fighting a rape allegation since 2018 that was thrown out by prosecutors only in June. 

- Pinochet the vampire -

Also getting its world premiere on Thursday is the Netflix film "El Conde" by Chilean director Pablo Larrain, who has became an arthouse favourite with biopics of Jackie Kennedy ("Jackie") and Princess Diana ("Spencer"). 

His latest is a strange but potentially searing take on his country's recent past, with dictator Augusto Pinochet reimagined as a blood-sucking vampire. 

It is one of several Netflix productions at the festival, which also including a short Roald Dahl adaptation from Wes Anderson, "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar", premiering on Friday, and "The Killer" by David Fincher on Sunday.

Venice, now in its 80th edition, is the longest running film festival in the world and has become a favoured launchpad for Oscar hopefuls in recent years. 

But the strike by actors and writers in Hollywood -- primarily over pay and the threat of AI -- has caused several major stars including Emma Stone and Bradley Cooper to cancel their publicity appearances.

By Eric Randolph

Paid Content