SUNDANCE LONDON ’21: ‘The Most Beautiful Boy In The World’ Is A Devastating Look At Abuse In The Film Industry

Picture from the set of Death in Venice. Luchino Visconti stands on the left of the image, a cigarette in his mouth with his sunglasses pushed back on his head.  Björn Andrésen, as a 16 year old is standing next to him, a towel wrapped around his naked torso.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Mario Tursi.

After casting Björn Andrésen as Tadzio in his 1971 film Death in Venice, Luchino Visconti dubbed the young teenager ‘the most beautiful boy in the world’, and Andresen was thrust into the international spotlight with devastating consequences. Fifty years later, Andrésen is telling his story for the first time, and The Most Beautiful Boy In The World tackles both the narrative surrounding the film and its production, as well as the complex life of Andrésen, who has been shaped by these experiences during his formative years.

Directors Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri open the film like a Scandi-noir: suspenseful strings score the winding corridors of an old hotel that has seen better days — it is later revealed that this is the Grand Hotel des Bains where Death in Venice was filmed and set — while we catch glimpses of a solitary figure, who wanders the abandoned corridors like a ghost, the blue lighting draining him of all colour.

Andrésen’s maternal grandmother, with whom he ran away to live with after being sent to boarding school, wanted “a celebrity grandchild”, and pushed him to audition for the role of Tadzio. Visconti’s lengthy search for the perfect child is captured on sepia-toned footage; when Andrésen walks through the door with a youthful confidence the camera zooms slowly in on his striking yet delicate features. It is only when Visconti commands his to take off his shirt that a note of fear and discomfort appears — and it is this discomfort that continues throughout the film, that is impossible not to feel when Visconti appears on screen with Andrésen, when he is surrounded by screaming fans, or standing alone on the set of Death in Venice.

Thanks, in part, to his grandmother’s desire for a proximity to fame, there is an abundance of Super 8 footage from this period, as well as countless hours of archive footage from press conferences, film festivals, and the music videos that Andrésen starred in while in Japan. Lindström and Petri manage to curate this extensive amount of material, jumping back and forwards in time to explain and delve deeper into the unbearable exploitation that Andrésen experiences. With every revelation, there is the sense of an unstoppable culmination of the weight of abuse, a continuing snowball that shows little sign of stopping, regardless of the devastation that it wreaks.

At its heart, The Most Beautiful Boy in The World is an intimate look at Andrésen and his relationships, and he is undoubtedly a complex man who is still suffering from the turn his life took nearly fifty years ago. There is a sense of loneliness, a stand-offishness: when his girlfriend Jessica argues with him about his possessive nature, Björn all but agrees with her, wondering out loud afterwards what he can do to make this right — every relationship he has is in some way shaped by what he experiences.

He explains, at one point, how you lose interest in cleanliness, hygiene, relationships, a healthy lifestyle when “you don’t feel like a human being”. With his concept of self-hood being stripped away, commodified, festishised, there is a sense of loss that follows him around, as he was never given the chance to discover who he was.

The Most Beautiful Boy in The World is now showing in cinemas across the UK now.

By Rose Dymock

Rose is a film critic , who graduated from the University of Liverpool with an MRes in Film Studies. She loves thrillers, Al Pacino, and multilingual cinema and she’s not entirely sure if she’s a millennial.

Find her on twitter @rosedymock and find more of her work at https://rosedymock.contently.com

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