The Most Beautiful Boy In The World


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

The Most Beautiful Boy In The World
"Well chosen archival footage shows his supremely uncomfortable screen test in Stockholm." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute/Mario Tursi

Kristian Petri and Kristina Lindström’s claustrophobic and disquieting documentary The Most Beautiful Boy In The World (Världens vackraste pojke), produced by Stina Gardell (Stig Björkman’s Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words and Joyce Carol Oates: A Body In The Service Of Mind, and director of Movie Man), introduces us to the present-day Björn Andrésen now in his Sixties by way of his supremely filthy apartment with commentary by his then girlfriend Jessica Vennberg who may not be the best match for him or for her to get life in order.

Björn at age 15 had his life turned upside down when Luchino Visconti anointed him to play Tadzio in his film version of Thomas Mann’s Death In Venice, starring Dirk Bogarde, and pronounced him to be 'the most beautiful boy in the world'. Well chosen archival footage shows his supremely uncomfortable screen test in Stockholm, Björn on the set in Venice, the London Royal World Première attended by Queen Elisabeth II, and the Cannes Film Festival press conference in 1971, where Visconti jokes to the journalists that Björn’s beauty at now 16 is already fading.

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Back and forth in time and around the globe we go, to Budapest in 2018 for the shoot of Ari Aster’s Midsommar, and to Paris in the Seventies where rich men set him up in an apartment and courted him with gifts. In Japan he lived for a while to make commercials and have a singing career. He became inspiration for manga artists, among them Riyoko Ikeda, whose Lady Oscar bears his likeness.

More than ever, in our visually over-saturated times, beauty and what one is supposed to look like takes a front-row seat in many teenagers’ minds, which continues on into their adulthood. That merely being rich does not guarantee a happy life seems to be more acceptable, while the myth that beauty could be the solution to life’s problems holds steady and stays hidden in many a psyche.

In an old television news clip, there is Visconti, the great Italian director, walking through a classroom in Stockholm, looking up and down all the boys in search of the perfect, elusive one. The scene reads differently in the Twenties of the 21st century than it must have read half a century ago. And yet we question how far we have really actually come.

Tadzio’s 'godlike serenity' and the projection onto this object of desire to be 'utterly happy and consummate,' as Thomas Mann put it, stay in our minds as a cracked mirror throughout the documentary. We discover along the way the perspective of Andrésen himself, then and now, in relation to Visconti who made him world-famous and to his own family who made him long for a steady guiding hand.

The chaotic upbringing, the unknown father, disappeared mother, and fame-obsessed stage-grandmother and his personal struggle with addictions that resulted in tragic events with his own family all form a complicated tableau. He asks “what happens when you don’t feel like a human being?” Beauty, so much is certain, is not to blame, but the people who feel that it is okay to exploit someone else because of it.

Reviewed on: 04 Jan 2022
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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".
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Amber Wilkinson **1/2

Director: Kristina Lindström, Kristian Petri

Writer: Kristina Lindström, Kristian Petri

Starring: Björn Andrésen

Year: 2021

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: Sweden

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