The Most Beautiful Boy In The World is at times an uncomfortable but remains a fascinating piece that shows how the scars of the earliest years of one life carry with you to adulthood. A finely crafted documentary that haunts you.
In 1970, filmmaker Luchino Visconti travelled throughout Europe looking for the perfect boy to personify absolute beauty in his adaptation for the screen of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. In Stockholm, he discovered Björn Andrésen, a shy 15-year-old teenager whom he brought to international fame overnight, leading to spending a short but intense part of his turbulent youth between the Lido in Venice, London Cannes Film Festival and the so distant Japan. Fifty years after the premiere of Death in Venice, Björn takes us on a remarkable journey made of personal memories, cinema history, stardust and tragic events in what could be Bjorn’s last attempt for him to get his life back on track finally.
As we begin the film, Visconti discovers his young muse and eventually mirrors the story he wants to present to the world, the story of an ageing artistic man who falls in love with an adolescent boy. He may not come out and explicitly say it, but it is obvious as the documentary goes on how controlling Visconti was of Andrésen. When they first meet, we see how Visconti looks at him and has him undress for photos in an uncomfortable moment that was filmed. We witness a boy who seems lost and unsure, posing in his underwear for a stranger, and it all feels off. As we continue through the documentary, it feels far too much, as if we are intruding on the past of Andrésen.
Yet to fully understand him, we have to look at his past. While that involves looking into the obvious grooming moments of his life, we see the now 65-year-old Andrésen attempt to come to terms, not only with those experiences but the before and immediately after it. What comes next is an astonishing and heartbreaking life of grief, mistreatment and abandonment. This is all perfectly presented via audio and videotapes, either played just for us or at times also for Andrésen. Having such a precious archive is vital to the success of The Most Beautiful Boy In The World, as it allows us to feel even more about this intimate tale.
At times The Most Beautiful Boy In The World feels like a warning shot to those young people who seek fame at an early age. We witness a boy thrust into the limelight with no preparation, dragged around not knowing or understanding what was going on, but knowing that a sense of pressure was mounting on him, we know there can only really be one outcome. Even more striking is the contractual issues regarding Björn and his life after meeting Visconti, a semblance of how young stars are forced into positions they are unprepared for.
Interestingly, when we meet the adult Björn, in those first few instances, we don’t see a glimpse of his face; side profiles and shots of the back of his head are the order of the day. As if we are not meant to see the man the boy has become, to be left with the memory of the teenage Björn. However, from the moment we see Andrésen fully as an adult, we get to see how almost haunted his facial features are. The road he has travelled has worn him down, with no sign of stopping.
A poignant showcase of this in physical form is when he plays the piano, a piece he seems to be writing himself. Then, afterwards, we listen to a piece that he performed when he was a younger man, and slowly we see him also listening and trying to memorise the notes, but realising that his older fingers would not be able to and regret what could have been begins to form again on his features. It is little moments like that in the film that strike you.
Of course, there are heavier moments involving a scene at a records office and with members of his family, but they are best left unsaid for you to witness for yourself. Those powerful moments spread evenly throughout The Most Beautiful Boy In The World highlight the patience and skills of directors Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri. They rarely try to be in your face with their camera, and their distant approach allows us to pity this man who never had a choice and had even less support from those who should have known better.
As memorable a character study of a documentary as you will see this year and one that has you rooting for Björn Andrésen to somehow, someday, bring down that wall he has built up to survive. With hope, the process of making this documentary has done that.
The Most Beautiful Boy in the World is released in UK / Irish cinemas 30th July
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