From illustration to performances, from sculpture to acting: Nicola Di Benedetto – «We were all staging the Seventies and we all were acting»
For his first leading role, Nicola Di Benedetto is under the guise of Mario Mieli, one of the founder of the Italian homosexual movement. Di Benedetto started acting when he was seven years old. His teacher was looking for a girl who wanted to play the character of the Spirit of the Wind. When Di Benedetto proposed himself for the role, the teacher turned him down, convinced that no little boy could play a female character. In a few days, Di Benedetto studied the lines and performed it in front of his teacher. She gave the role to him but believed it was necessary to change the name of the character from Spirit of the Wind to the Wind, in order to confer a male identity. «This made me realize the potential of acting. I obviously performed the Spirit of the Wind and not the Wind». He studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Bologna. Some of his illustrations have been selected for exhibitions and in 2018 his led sculpture AMRI has been exposed among the works of young talents at Fotografia Europea in Reggio Emilia. AMRI represents the faces of four women: Amanda Lear, Moana Pozzi, Raffaella Carrà and Ilona Staller that simultaneously cross and randomly light up reproducing a deformed face. By repeatedly photographing the work, what Di Benedetto realized was that he never obtained the same shots because the led light created different matches.
In 2020 he makes his debut in cinema with Gli anni amari. He studied to interpret Mario Mieli because he knew little about him before this role. He remembered his face thanks to some images and he had heard about Circolo di cultura omosessuale Mario Mieli in Rome, founded in 1983 after Mieli’s early death. «I knew Mario Mieli. Everyone knows something about him but there are shadows and hidden truths that lingers around his person. Mario Mieli is a mysterious figure. Little is being said about him. He did everything to cover himself with mystery. He was provocative, mystery was part of his provocation and he tried to test people around him to see their reaction». Starting from the school essay written at sixteen where he declares his homosexuality saying «My name is Mario or Maria, as you prefer» to his university thesis published by Einaudi under the title Elementi di Critica Omosessuale, the movie recreates the short life of the intellectual and activist Mario Mieli whose mission was to free sexuality and identity. While the young actor comes from Corviale, Rome, Mario Mieli was born in Milan from a jewish middle-class and wealthy family. Second to last of seven brothers, his father was an industrialist who trades silk and his mother was a teacher. Di Benedetto worked to change his manner of speaking, his accent and the tone of his voice. He analyzed the way Mieli moved and his gestures.
To prepare the character, Di Benedetto has read most of Mario Mieli’s writings. He deciphers the language of the Seventies that helped him to take a dip in a long gone period and to assimilate it. The movie is soaked of historic informations and it’s based on actual events: from the first Italian manifestation of homosexuals in Sanremo to Festa del proletariato giovanile in Parco Lambro in 1975, from Piazza VIII Agosto in Bologna where Mieli spoke instead of Dario Fo to the protests in London with the Gay Liberation Front.Di Benedetto remembers, «There were some journalists interviewing us on set. They knew everything about that period. I started to review these events through their eyes. These testimonies made the story even vivid and close». Not just the places but the people who Mieli has met in his life, are told as well. In Gli anni amari the intellectuals and artists of the time follow one another: the journalist Fernanda Pivano, the painter Piero Fassoni, the architect Corrado Levi, the songwriter Ivan Cattaneo. Di Benedetto’s process of analysis goes even deeper: he tries to reconstruct the relationship with the most intimate Mieli’s friends and with his family. «The actors and the convivial atmosphere that has been created on set helped to restore the sense of community that existed in Mieli’s everyday life».
Di Benedetto recalls Umberto Pasti, Mario Mieli’s latest lover who stayed with him as long as he could, overcoming his psychic crisis, but that he gave up in the end. Pasti was a young student when he met Mario Mieli and now he is a writer and a botanical living in Morocco. «When the director got in touch and explained the movie project to Pasti, Pasti was positive and supportive». Di Benedetto continues, «I first met him at Casa del Cinema in Rome during the movie’s launch and he was extremely moved. At that moment I realized that I did a good job. I was no more terrified by the weight of the character». Di Benedetto is grateful to Umberto Pasti and its contribution to the movie, «He recounted the last seven years of Mieli’s more intimate life». He explains, «Pasti gave us fifty percent of the plot. He was the hero who preserved the first draft of Mieli’s latest writing that his family didn’t allow to publish because it was detrimental to the family’s honor. Thanks to him the book wasn’t lost or forgotten in an old bookcase». Di Benedetto goes on saying that the way the movie was realized helped him to immerse himself in the figure of Mario Mieli. «The movie was designed by a troupe who usually plans theatre performances». The whole troupe moved together and they have reached the cities of Milan, London, Sanremo, Lecce by makeshift means such as vans, campers and cars. The stage technicians, set designers, cameramen, were all like actors who worked as if they were putting on a theatre performance. «We built this atmosphere day by day, keeping it alive and fresh. We never took off our costumes in a way to remain inside the role. We were all staging the Seventies and we all were acting».
At first Di Benedetto didn’t see Mieli’s interviews, photos or videos. He didn’t concentrate on the physical appearance because he didn’t want to return a mere caricature of him. «This process of studying Mario Mieli’s life, led me to discover myself even better and to relate with an intimate part of me that I still hadn’t decoded enough. Thanks to Mario Mieli, I understood that one’s identity can be sometimes a provocation for others. I figured out that I could bring with me my identity everywhere. That there is nothing to fear because there are no risks to take». He continues «Theatre performances, travestitism and the experimentation of different artistic forms make me somehow feel close to his figure». In the movie the last period of Mario Mieli’s life is represented as a moment of isolation. He took the distance from the homosexual movement, dedicating himself to alchemy, esotericism and writing. The complete detachment brutally happened in 1983 when he put his head in the oven of his house in Milan. According to Benedetto: «Today, gender identity is still a topic to understand and it is frightening to many. It’s a subversive element compared to the society we are living and people try to hold it off as much as possible. Sexuality and identity have not been understood and overcome. All the attention is concentrated on individual success. There is no wider nor collective overlook. There is no community that shares the same ideal and that fights for the liberation of happiness as Mario Mieli meant it. He didn’t fight only for homosexuals. His idea of liberation wasn’t directed to few people. He wanted to involve and contaminate everybody with his ideal of freedom».IMAGE GALLERY
Nicola Di Benedetto, born in 1992 in Rome. He studied theatre at Cantiere Teatrale in Rome, Illustration and Comic at Accademia di Belle Arti in Bologna. He is currently working on a new graphic novel.