Celebrated Italian queer theater and film director Andrea Adriatico’s latest movie is a biopic of Mario Mieli who was a leading figure in the Italian gay movement of the 1970s. Mieli may be little known outside of Italy but his fascinating colorful life that abruptly ended when he was just 30 years old, makes for compelling viewing.
Mieli (actor Nicola Di Benedetto making his screen debut) was born into a large wealthy family of silk merchants in 1952 and they all live on a vast estate on Lake Como. Meili was a fearless outrageous precocious teenager who was indulged by his mother even though she never approved of any of his actions. In fact throughout his life his mother (Sandra Ceccarelli) was the only one in his ultra-conservative family who made an effort to maintain any sort of a relationship with him.
Regardless of the familty’s hostility, Mieli lacked for neither money or material possessions, so when he started to cross-dress it was in the finest womenswear money could buy .
When the family moved back to Milan in 1968, Mieli went with them and he threw himself into the student uprising of that year, beginning a long commitment to revolutionary causes. Like many Italian youth at the time, he was a communist but also an intellectual who was as interested in the philosophy of change as it to the reality of achieving it.
He studied in London where he took an active part in the London Gay Liberation Front. It was a city he loved and he would return to often. It was however in San Remo back in Italy at the first homosexual demonstration at a Congress of Sexology against psychiatric condemnation of homosexual conduct, that Mieli first started to make his political presence known.
A year later in 1972, the 20 year old Mieli helped found the collective Fronte Unitario Omosessuale Rivoluzionario Italiano (Italian revolutionary homosexual united front). Better known by its acronym F.U.O.R.I! (Come out!), it was Italy’s first major gay-rights group. but Mieli criticized the move as “counter-revolutionary,” since he thought the gay movement should remain independent of political parties so he left 2 years later
Adriatico’s film shows a Mieli whose passion for the ideology of gay rights, which he had published including his Doctorate thesis, was overwhelming and intense, it literally got the better of him at times and he ended up getting psychiatric help.
His fiercely bright intellect empowered his contributions to the gay rights movement, but they all seem to come at a high personal cost. His life was a whole series of highs and lows : highs when he was in love like with Umberto (Tobia De Angelis), and lows when his manic intensity drove Umberto away.
Even if you were unaware of Mieli’s life story before watching the film, it still comes as no shock at all that in the end he chose to take his own life.
The film,. with pitch perfect performances, is an intriguing account of a slice of LGBTQ history that not many of us knew about, and it is always so rewarding to discover any queer pioneers we should feel indebted too.