The race for the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion stepped up a gear Thursday with a widely praised biopic about sports car impresario Enzo Ferrari starring Adam Driver.
The latest from director Michael Mann -- known for stylised and glossy thrillers like "Heat", "Collateral" and "Miami Vice" -- zooms in on a difficult period in the 1950s for the Italian mogul as he tries to keep his company and relationships alive.
Driver's charismatic performance in the lead was matched by Penelope Cruz who earned early Oscar buzz from critics as his hard-nosed wife and business partner.
"Ferrari" also delivers full-throttle racing action, including one of the most shocking crashes ever put on screen.
There were strong early reviews, with Variety calling it a "gripping and masterful drama", though Little White Lies felt the "by-the-book storytelling... doesn't do justice to such rich subject matter".
That was nothing compared to the critical savaging unleashed on the next film in competition, "Dogman" by French director Luc Besson ("The Fifth Element", "Lucy").
- 'Year's dumbest film' -
"Dogman" stars award-winning US actor Caleb Landry Jones as an abused boy finding refuge with a pack of dogs and a drag show, and was described as "a ludicrous howler" by Variety.
"Dogs who can read, dogs who are experienced jail breakers, dogs who disguise themselves as cushions. All hail, the year's dumbest film," wrote The Telegraph.
Besson, 64, is hoping for a comeback after a 2017 flop, "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" all but bankrupted his production company, EuropaCorp.
He had also been fighting a rape allegation since 2018, which was finally thrown out by prosecutors in June.
- 'Total solidarity' -
Driver is one of the few stars able to attend the Venice festival, since most are barred from publicity work by the ongoing strike of Hollywood writers and actors.
"Ferrari" was given an exemption by the unions as it was made outside the studio system.
"We stand in total solidarity with the actors and writers guilds," Mann told reporters in Venice.
"Why is it that a smaller distribution company like Neon and STX International (who funded 'Ferrari') can meet the dream demands of what (the Screen Actors Guild) is asking for... when a big company like Netflix and Amazon can't?" said Driver.
Mann was accompanied on the red carpet by Piero Ferrari, the founder's son and current vice-chairman of the company, who features as a boy in the film.
- Pinochet the vampire -
Venice also saw the premiere of Netflix film "El Conde", a biting satire that reimagines Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and British prime minister Margaret Thatcher as bloodthirsty vampires.
It is directed by Chile's Pablo Larrain, known for biopics of Jackie Kennedy ("Jackie") and Princess Diana ("Spencer").
He said the horror-comedy approach was the only way to tackle Pinochet, who oversaw a brutal regime of executions, torture and corruption between 1973 to 1990, and was a close ally of Thatcher.
"If you avoided the satire, it could easily take you to some form of empathy and that's not acceptable," Larrain said.
It is one of several Netflix productions at the festival, which also include a short Roald Dahl adaptation from Wes Anderson, "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar", premiering on Friday, and David Fincher's "The Killer" with Michael Fassbender and Tilda Swinton on Sunday.
There are 23 films competing for the Golden Lion at Venice, now in its 80th edition, which has become a launchpad for Oscar hopefuls.
But the strikes by Hollywood actors and writers -- primarily over pay and the threat of AI -- has caused several big stars including Emma Stone and Bradley Cooper to cancel their appearances.