The Most Beautiful Boy In The World
Jul 19, 2022
Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri
“To put the eyes on the beauty is to put the eyes on death” says director Luchino Visconti over shots from the screen test of 15-year old Björn Andrésen,who he was to cast in the role of Tadzio in his version of Thomas Mann’s novella Death in Venice. The year was 1971 and Visconti had scoured the world for Mann’s personification of male beauty. Andrésen struck Visconti like a lightning bolt, fittingly, as the epicene young Swede had the look of a god tumbled into the frenetic world of film from Mount Olympus; bemused, confused and, beneath the honeyed ringlets and flawlessly arranged features, terrified by the experience. “They were like a swarm of bats” Andrésen intones over footage of himself and Visconti’s team among the excited crowd at the 25th Cannes Film Festival. He felt trapped, isolated within a “surreal membrane” which twisted the world into a nightmarish maze, one which took him decades to struggle out of.
Filmmakers-cum-journalists Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri’s blend of home movies, footage from the filming of Death in Venice, Andrésen’s later achievements in Japan and his current life in Stockholm and Paris detail this struggle with great visual flair and quiet but compelling narrative force. The tall, thin but wiry, wildly hirsute 66 - now 67 - year old Andrésen retains much of the physical presence that won him the role and that dubious ‘Most Beautiful Boy’ plaudit from Visconti. He never breaks his own fourth wall - an understated but considered tone - which makes his account of his troubled life the more arresting, though I couldn’t feel the degree of empathy Lindström and Petri’s masterly command of their material seems to be asking for. I felt sorrier for a recent girlfriend of Andrésen’s, exasperated on the phone as she accuses him of being cold and unresponsive, of not giving her “the entry code” to his real self. Though there are moments when he does seem to be giving us, through the interviewer, at least one or two digits of that ‘entry code’, particularly in the account of his young son’s cot death. Of course, the man is under no obligation to bare his soul, but one does get the feeling of someone consciously maintaining, refining a cinematic image at all cost. And he can hardly be blamed, it may be the only substance he has.
The most intriguing character in the film, discounting the inimitable Visconti, who only appears briefly in bits of footage, is Andrésen’s mother, who disappeared suddenly when the boy was 11 or 12 years old. She was a ‘seeker’, a Bohemian, a Dior model, a writer of poetry. She was later found dead in the woods, a traumatic event which was responsible for much of Andrésen’s confusion and estrangement. It’s this death which is the dark pivot around which the film revolves, and is used with such evocative effect by its makers. And though we see Andrésen, and his sister of the same age, finding some resolution to their shared, ongoing grief, his mother’s death remains the key to his life. Though, it’s suggested, as the former most Beautiful Boy in the World drifts along the beach at Venice, complete self-understanding and fulfillment is still teasingly out of reach. Poor Boy.