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 and iTunes.

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