‘The Most Beautiful Boy in the World’ is a captivating documentary

the most beautiful boy in the world

In 1971 Swedish actor Bjorn Andresen shot to fame after appearing in the film Death in Venice. New documentary The Most Beautiful Boy in the World looks into his casting and subsequent stardom, juxtaposed with Andresen’s life today as a man in his 60’s haunted by his past.

Director Luchino Visconti set out to bring Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella Death in Venice to the screen. The story, set at the turn of the century, follows composer Gustav von Aschenbach who is mesmerised by an attractive youth he encounters amongst the holidaying families in Venice.

While actor Dirk Bogarde was cast as the composer, Visconti travelled the world searching for a suitably beautiful actor to play the adolescent Tadzio. Behind the scenes footage from the casting process sees the director talk about how her has scoured Russia and Poland and many other countries for a youth who is so beautiful to warrant the fascination of the central character.

In Stockholm 15 year old Bjorn Andresen enters the casting room. The director’s interested is piqued, with flowing blond hair, the lithe youth with minimal acting experience is who his team has been searching for.

The team study the teens face, asking his to look one way and another, they ask him to remove his shirt so they can see his torso. Nervously he agrees and stands as they inspect his body. The footage makes for uncomfortable viewing.

the most beautiful boy in the world

Soon Andresen is joining the production, and when the finished film is premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, Andresen is proclaimed to be “the most beautiful boy in the world”.  Immediately he is thrust into a world of gay nightclubs, drinking and celebrity.  Fan mail arrives by the sack, and he has a legion of fans, particularly gay men, but he’s also huge in Japan.

He travels to Japan where he records pop singles, his face is the basis from manga characters, and he’s a pin-up heartthrob appearing in advertisements and being mobbed by fans.

the most beautiful boy in the world

Five decades later Andresen is living in squalor in a small apartment in Stockholm. His face is crevassed and haggard, his long grey hair flows down his back. He looks like Gandalf pottering about his home. His girlfriend is tackling the bugs that are overtaking his apartment, and the neighbours want him evicted because he keeps leaving the gas on.

The filmmakers follow him as he discussed his memories of making the film and being exposed to celebrity at a young age, and he goes on a journey to slowly unravel the events of his life that caused him years of depression and mental health issues.

The story is interestingly presented as two bookends, a teenager and senior citizen. One appearing young, innocent, and wide-eyed, the other tired, worn and weighed down. The viewer is left with a burning desire to discover what happened in the intervening years.

Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri’s documentary is fascinating and will spark many different conversations.

See The Most Beautiful Boy in the World at the Revelation Perth International Film Festival. Catch a screening on July 5th at 6:30pm at Luna on SX in Fremantle and on July 9th at 4:05pm at Luna Leederville.   

Graeme Watson 

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