Starring: Nicolo Di Benedetto, Sandra Ceccarelli, Antonio Catania, Tobia De Angelis
Director: Andrea Adriatico
It’s easy to forget that Stonewall was only the liberating moment for the LGBT+ Community in the USA. The UK’s benchmark came two years before, while many European countries’ came before or soon after. Today we’re still seeing some countries finding their moment and behind each is a hard-fought battle for equality and acceptance populated with heroes and dogged activists alike. Bitter Years is one of these stories, charting the life of Mario Mieli, the man behind the Italian Revolutionary Homosexual United Front and who wrote the world-famous book ‘Homosexuality and Liberation: Elements of a Gay Critique.’
We meet Mario (Benedetto) as he leaves high school in Milan, with literary talent but whose eccentricities are mocked by his peers and abhorred by his parents (Ceccarelli & Catania). Heading to London, he joins with the Gay Liberation Front and is inspired to follow in their footsteps back home. Leading a group of angered LGBT+ people from across the spectrum, they vocally oppose the conservative establishment and align themselves with the initially reluctant communists. Extravagant and colourful, people flock to him, including the handsome Umberto (Angelis) who becomes his lover. But all this bravado masks his feelings of inadequacy and shame that he cannot overcome.
Mieli is a Quentin Crisp-type figure, whose androgyny and caustic wit means he can thrive in a world that is so antagonistic to gay men. Nicolo Di Benedetto gives a remarkable performance and looks uncannily similar to this controversial figure. An impressive biopic, this does well to inform a foreign audience ignorant of his fame as well as pay homage to a beloved - but often-maligned - figure. Above all, this is a movie about shame, instilled in Queer people before they know who they are. Mieili battles against it with all his flair, but it cannot compete with the destructive force of his past, exhibited through a character arc that takes us far, far down into the depths of his sadness.
It’s incredibly important that the histories of Queer freedom fighters be remembered and this does incredibly well to document that in an eminently entertaining movie. It drags its feet at times, but we are given an uncensored portrait of an unconventional hero who lived, loved and died FAR before his time.