Review by Sean Boelman
The Berlinale has been known for discovering some of the most exciting new voices in international cinema, and this year’s edition seems to deliver that in spades. Although the film itself leaves something to be desired, The Properties of Metals heralds the arrival of an intriguing new filmmaker in Antonio Bigini.
The film tells the story of a twelve-year-old boy who has the mysterious power of manipulating metal through telekinesis as an outsider who comes to the boy’s rural community to test his powers. It’s an intriguing premise that has a ton of potential for really good symbolism, but it ends up being a bit too restrained for its own good.
Bigini posits some interesting questions about the upper class’s exploitation of the working class, but these themes are somewhat underdeveloped. We’ve seen plenty of effective films about an outsider who begins to interfere with something they have no business being a part of — and The Properties of Metals doesn’t do anything particularly meaningful with the trope.
The biggest problem with the film is that it meanders pretty significantly. Despite the runtime being only around an hour and a half, it feels much longer than that because the story begins to feel repetitive at a certain point. Although no one would go into this film expecting a superhero movie — or even a horror movie, for that matter — it does become somewhat tiring to watch the triviality of it all.
Of course, the mundanity is largely the point. However, the script needed to engage with the concept of spectacle on a much deeper level for it to be fully effective. It’s clear that Bigini had plenty of interesting ideas, including a little-known true story inspiration, but it feels like he threw everything at the wall and only a few things stuck.
The main thing that Bigini does well here is creating a sense of realism. His style is clearly influenced by neo-realism, with an emphasis on naturalistic performances — largely from newcomers — and human drama involving the working class. This creates a nice juxtaposition against the more fantastical elements of the premise.
The Properties of Metals also boasts strong production values. The cinematography by Andrea Vaccari is stunning, particularly in its portrayal of rural Italy. And the production design by Paola Bizzarri does a great job of setting the time period of the film without feeling overly nostalgic or cheap.
The Properties of Metals is a strong debut for Antonio Bigini, but it does suffer from some pacing issues and not entirely engaging with its themes. Still, it’s a stunning film to look at, and the concept is intriguing enough that it’s worth recommending.
The Properties of Metals premiered at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival.