The Most Beautiful Boy In The World

**1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Most Beautiful Boy In The World
"Plays out as a not entirely satisfying mix of film history and a particularly melancholic episode of Who Do You Think You Are?" | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute/Mario Tursi

Waves of sadness wash through this documentary by Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri’s documentary, which profiles Björn Andrésen, and plays out as a not entirely satisfying mix of film history and a particularly melancholic episode of Who Do You Think You Are?

Andrésen – who still cuts a striking figure with long hair and a beard today – was plucked from obscurity at the age of 15 by Luchino Visconti to star as the beautiful teenager Tadzio, with whom Composer Gustav von Aschenbach becomes obsessed in Death In Venice.

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Although it is not explicitly stated – very little is in the course of this frustrating documentary – Andrésen appears to suffer from depression to the degree that when we first encounter him, his girlfriend his helping him to entirely clean out his filthy flat under threat of eviction. The filmmakers no doubt want us to draw a direct line from Death In Venice to this, even though their film itself presents evidence of multiple contributory factors.

At the time he met Andrésen, Visconti had been travelling Europe looking for the perfect boy to cast and we see the footage of his first encounter with Andrésen here, as he asks the obviously nervous teenager to take off his shirt and orders photos to be taken. Andrésen wasn’t one of those stage-school kids keen to get on to telly, but rather pushed into the limelight by his grandmother – “She wanted a celebrity for a grandchild,” he says. She certainly got one, as Visconti would soon declare him, “the most beautiful boy in the world”, leading to objectification from La Croisette in Cannes to the manga comics of Japan. This is an interesting topic and one that offers the opportunity for the documentary to branch out into more universal themes but the filmmakers miss the chance to expand on this idea.

Instead they go back to Andrésen's personal life, offering a lot of insinuation about this period of his life rather than direct accusation. Footage of Visconti seen licking his lips, for example, is unnecessarily juxtaposed with Andrésen as a teenager. Visconti was openly gay and employed a mostly gay crew on the set of Death In Venice but this film explicitly states that he made sure nobody went near Andrésen, so it’s a shame the filmmakers seem to want to nudge us in that direction through the edit. They would have been better to leave it to Andrésen, who sums it up when he says that, after Cannes, he felt as though he had “served his purpose”. There’s no doubt there was an exploitative element to what happened to Andrésen following the Death In Venice, not least because Visconti had him under contract and “owned his face” for three years but you can’t help but feel the filmmakers are somewhat disappointed they couldn’t dig more dirt up than they did, so try to lead us to smell smoke whether a fire exists or not.

The film struggles structurally because it attempts to run the story of his fame alongside an exploration Andrésen’s early life and the loss of his mother, never quite bringing either into sufficient focus. Although he is a thoughtful soul and the interviews with him are obviously offering some sort of personal catharsis, the Lindström and Petri struggle to attain a broader insight. As Andrésen’s relates part of his tale to his girlfriend, she tells him, “It makes me sad” – it’ll make you sad, too.

Reviewed on: 29 Jan 2021
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The Most Beautiful Boy In The World packshot
Swedish actor/musician Björn Andresen's life was forever changed at the age of 15, when he played Tadzio, the object of Dirk Bogarde's obsession in Death in Venice – a role which led Italian maestro Luchino Visconti to dub him "the world's most beautiful boy".

Director: Kristina Lindström, Kristian Petri

Writer: Kristina Lindström, Kristian Petri

Starring: Björn Andrésen, Björn Andrésen

Year: 2021

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: Sweden

Festivals:

Sundance 2021

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