Review: The Properties of Metals
- Telling of a child with paranormal faculties, Antonio Bigini's feature debut questions the “invisible forces” we have stopped believing in, with a poetic fragility that might disappoint the viewer
A typical TV phenomenon of the 1970s, illusionist Uri Geller was (apparently) able to bend keys and spoons at a touch. Minigellers, on the other hand, were the children who emulated the master, managing in some cases to attract the attention of scientists. The Properties of Metals [+see also:
film profile] by Antonio Bigini, selected at the last Berlinale in the Generation Kplus section and now in competition at the Bergamo Film Meeting, tells the story of a minigeller who has been living in the countryside of the Romagna Apennines since the late 1970s with his farmer father, little brother and grandmother.
Pietro (Martino Zaccaro) is shy – he certainly doesn't act like a mutant proto-hero from Professor X or the Umbrella Academy. But he is aware of his faculty. He bends keys and forks and Professor Moretti (David Pasquesi) who arrives from the University of Bologna to “study” him is the only one who seems to believe in him. The scene in which Pietro is simply asked to describe metal objects by touch is beautiful: the boy describes a cheese knife as “warm, soft and green” and a large steel joint as “crisp, blue, resembling a cat.” His widowed father (Antonio Buil Pueyo), burdened with debts, ignores him instead. And he only totally changes his attitude when the university professor raises a $20,000 prize in the USA for anyone who brings scientific proof of a paranormal phenomenon.
For his first fiction feature film, documentary filmmaker, screenwriter and editor Antonio Bigini was inspired by the study (which was however never published) of physicist Ferdinando Bersani and university lecturer Aldo Martelli. He directs the story with great delicacy, with a kind of poetic fragility, leaving much unsaid about this little boy of humble origins forced to measure himself against the world of adults who want to vivisect his hidden abilities – a loss of innocence that is also that of a peasant world outdated by the times. Although not fully comparable, The Properties of Metals recalls a recent Norwegian production, The Innocents [+see also:
interview: Eskil Vogt
film profile] by Eskil Vogt, a supernatural thriller seen in Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2021 about a young boy with telekinetic powers, a film that questions the nature of good and evil, and the supposed innocence of children.
Bigini's film does not flaunt special effects, its strength is the sheer originality of the starting idea, which opens up questions about the world “full of invisible forces that people have stopped believing in,” to use the professor's words in the film. However, it does so by taking too much away from the narrative material and its dramaturgy, and many viewers may feel somewhat betrayed by such evanescence.
The Properties of Metals is produced by Kiné Società Cooperativa with Rai Cinema. True Colours handles its international sales.
(Translated from Italian)
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