Thursday, February 4, 2021

Sundance: The Most Beautiful Boy in the World (2021)




Director Luchino Visconti spent months traveling to Russia, Hungary, Poland, Finland and elsewhere in search of the most beautiful boy in the world. When he traveled to Stockholm, Sweden in February 1970, Visconti found him. Björn Andrésen had just turned 15 years old when his grandmother encouraged him to participate in Visconti's casting call. With his mop of blonde hair, blue eyes, feminine features and slender frame, he was the perfect choice to play Tadzio in Visconti's Death in Venice (1971). Tadzio is the son of a wealthy woman vacationing in Venice. He soon becomes the object of fascination (and more disturbingly desire) for Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde), a dying composer. The role of Tadzio required no dialogue. Andrésen just had to look good for the camera.




Death in Venice made Björn Andrésen a celebrity overnight. He became the poster boy for ideal beauty and everyone seemed to want him. The young Andrésen was terrified by the press and remembers that time as both a "living nightmare" and a "surreal dream." When you watch Andrésen in Death in Venice and in archival press footage you will clearly see a young boy who is uncomfortable with all this newfound attention. The sudden fame and admiration, which he felt he had done nothing to earn, took a toll on his self-esteem. Andrésen couldn't even capitalize on his fame in Europe as Visconti had complete control over the newcomer with a three year contract. However, Andrésen became particularly famous in Japan. When he visited that country he was treated like a rock star. He was lavished with attention, he modeled for photo shoots, was drawn into a manga series and even made a record. Andrésen has worked as an actor ever since, most recently appearing in the horror film Midsommar (2019). But events from his past, including his mom's mysterious death and the making of Death in Venice, still haunt him to this day.

 


Directed by Kristina Lindström, The Most Beautiful Boy in the World is fascinating look into the life of Björn Andrésen. It tells the story of Björn Andrésen both as a young boy objectified by a famous film director and a man haunted by past traumas. It's an intimate documentary. We hear from Andrésen himself with narrations, interviews and both old and new footage. It also features interviews with his sister, daughter, childhood friend and others close to him.I had known very little about both Death in Venice and Andrésen so I made sure to watch the film immediately after watching the documentary. Lindström's film is as exquisite as it is eye-opening. Highly recommended.


The Most Beautiful Boy in the World premiered at the virtual 2021 Sundance Film Festival as part of their World Cinema Documentary Competition. It's distributed by Juno Films but there is no news yet about a theatrical or virtual release to the public. 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of Death in Venice (1971). The film is available on Blu-ray and DVD from the Criterion Collection and can be rented on DVD.com and iTunes.


Sunday, January 31, 2021

Sundance: Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It



"She's an original and can't being that every minute of her life." — Norman Lear

Actress, singer, dancer, speaker, activist. Rita Moreno can do it all. Not only is she a natural performer but she lives for the spotlight. For someone who has such energy and passion for what she does, it's natural that her career as an entertainer has lasted as long as it has. Moreno battled sexual harassment, racism and toxic relationships and continued to thrive, broadening her horizons to work in every aspect of the entertainment industry. In doing so it is fitting that Moreno would become the first Latinx performer to earn the label of EGOT (winner of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony). In paving her own way she helped forge a path for Latinx performers to come.








Directed by Mariem Pérez Riera, Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided To Go For It is a celebratory documentary that offers a polished look at Moreno's life and career. Talking heads include George Chakiris, Norman Lear, Justina Machado, Lin Manuel Miranda, Hector Elizondo, Mitzi Gaynor, Morgan Freeman, Eva Longoria, Gloria Estefan, Terrence McNally, Moreno's daughter, manager, among others. There are also interviews with scholars who offer perspectives of how Moreno's story fits into the history of Latinx performers. Front and center is Rita Moreno herself who shares her trials and tribulations as a Puerto Rican woman coming up in an industry that didn't quite know what to do with her. We learn about what she calls her "dusky maiden roles", her incredible rise to fame, her work in Singin in the Rain (1954) and West Side Story (1960), her torrid romantic relationship with Marlon Brando, her activism and her constant evolution as an artist. Along with interviews there are paper doll animations, scenes from her 86th birthday part and plenty of archival footage. The documentary paints a portrait of a woman who loves life and bursts with joy but also suffers from self-loathing. As a biographical documentary it's quite ordinary. It does allow its subject to shine which many will appreciate. Perhaps the most eye-opening moments for me were when Moreno divulged about her experience with sexual harassment and how that mirrored her role in West Side Story and her troubled marriage.

Highly recommended for fans of Rita Moreno and for Latinx viewers who want to learn more about one of our most important entertainment icons.

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided To Go For It premiered at the virtual 2021 Sundance Film Festival as part of their US Documentary competition.


There is no trailer for the documentary so here is an introduction by the director.

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