In 1970, filmmaker Luchino Visconti travelled throughout Europe looking for the perfect boy to personify absolute beauty in his screen adaptation of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. His years-long search, as viewed through the lens of directors Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri, is deeply, deeply unsettling.
In Stockholm, Visconti found Björn Andrésen, a shy 15-year-old teenager. This moment of discovery is captured in Lindström and Petri’s gripping and devastating documentary film, The Most Beautiful Boy In The World. As Andrésen enters the room - unaware that his life is about to change forever - his discomfort is obvious.
It is clear that Andrésen does not want to be standing in front of Visconti (we later find that his grandmother was the driving force behind the audition). However, Visconti views him coldly - calculating his worth as an object and making him parade around the room semi-naked. “The boy was exquisitely beautiful,” recalls Margareta Krantz, Swedish casting director for Death in Venice. “He is fragile. And that is beautiful… on film. You have to be very careful with such children.”
Tragically, it appears that no such care was taken with Andrésen’s casting as Tadzio. Thanks to Visconti’s film, he found international fame overnight. Ripped from his life in Stockholm, he became a must-have accessory, a trophy objectified throughout Venice, London, France and Japan. When this new life threatened to overwhelm him, Andrésen was given pills to make him feel better.
Fifty years after the premiere of Death in Venice, Lindström and Petri join Björn on a haunting and heartbreaking journey through memory and cinema history as he attempts to solve the mysteries and face the tragedies of his life.
On the surface, the Andrésen of today is barely recognisable from the iconic figure in Visconti’s film. With his long grey hair and beard, his face reveals the toll of Tadzio. When we first meet Andrésen in the documentary, he is living in squalor and struggling to cope with his past.
The two figures are connected, however, by a powerful sense of sadness and inner darkness. The Most Beautiful Boy In The World examines the source of his anguish - his grief, loss and guilt - using archival materials, cinéma vérité and eerily beautiful scenes, which capture Andrésen as he contemplates his life. “Björn’s motivation to regain his self-respect is the core of this film,” explains producer, Stina Gardell. “It is a process of discovery, where he goes back into the past in order to regain something that has been lost.”
Lindström and Petri see The Most Beautiful Boy In The World as a story about objectification, about society’s obsession with beauty, about desire and sacrifice, about a boy whose life was changed forever when Visconti declared him to be the “world’s most beautiful boy”. This is the story of a film that destroyed a life.
The Most Beautiful Boy In The World is also an examination of what happens when adults fail to protect the children in their care. As Andrésen tells us his incredible story - and explores family secrets, searching for the truth - we begin to understand the consequences of this most tragic dereliction of duty.
The Most Beautiful Boy in the World is released in cinemas on 30th July 2021.