Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri’s documentary opens with footage of the titular beautiful boy Björn Andrésen’s audition for Death in Venice, the 1971 film that catapulted him to fame. This footage alone – in which the probing camera lingers on fifteen-year-old Andrésen’s face and body as he is told to strip down to his underpants and pose by director Luchino Visconti – demonstrates how Andrésen’s story is uniquely and almost cruelly suited to documentary format. This pivotal moment which has been captured – and I intend the multiple meanings of the term “captured” there – on film shows how Andrésen’s life has been inexorably linked with visual media, often to the detriment of his own voice and expression. Fifty years on, The Most Beautiful Boy In The World attempts to right this wrong.
Andrésen was catapulted to fame when he was cast in the aforementioned Death in Venice as Tadzio, the embodiment of youthful beauty as viewed by the film’s middle-aged protagonist Gustav von Aschenbach. Described by Visconti during the advertising for Death in Venice as “the most beautiful boy in the world,” the description stuck and Andrésen was celebrated the world over for his good looks. In particular, the documentary details his influence in Japan where he became a pop music sensation as well as becoming the inspiration for modern-day manga.
However, as any viewer will be unsurprised to discover, thrown into the world of fame without the necessary supports – Visconti disposed of Andrésen after Death in Venice, while his grandmother was interested only in her grandson’s success – did not turn out well for the young man. The documentary charts two eras and in many ways two Björn Andrésens: the first is Andrésen as a child and teenager, and the second a contemporary Andrésen in his sixties. It’s rather striking that even as the documentary strives to dispel the enigma of the younger Andrésen, treated as a sex symbol worldwide, we still never really get his point of view. Even in the music video for one of the pop songs he recorded and released in Japan he remains a mute figure when onscreen, his vocals remaining disembodied, simply overlaying the visuals.
As an older adult Andrésen is given far more space to articulate his experiences. The documentary explores how Andrésen never viewed himself as an actor: rather, music became the avenue for his self-expression. It focuses on his struggles throughout his life, from devastating personal tragedies to more recent clashes with his landlord when he forgets to turn off the gas in his kitchen. Interestingly and refreshingly, the filmmakers don’t try to view all of Andrésen’s life through the prism of Death in Venice as would certainly be tempting. Indeed, Andrésen’s hardships began as a much younger child with the suicide of his loving mother, and perhaps as a result Lindström and Petri use their film to reflect, just as Andrésen’s sister does in one of the talking heads, on the way in which the system of greed and obsession that Andrésen found himself at the mercy of may have further wounded and traumatised an individual who was already vulnerable.
The Most Beautiful Boy in the World is in cinemas from 30th July