This fascinating, eerie 2021 documentary is a big old look at the human condition. Directed by Kristina Lindström, it’s an excellent film about the life of Björn Andrésen (now 67).
It often makes for uncomfortable viewing, being a tale of exploitation and a life marked by continuous tragedy. And it all starts out in Venice.
The Most Beautiful Boy in the World and the Reality of Tadzio
Luchino Visconti (1906-1976) was leading director in the 1950s and 1960s, the Italian boasting works like Senso (1954) and The Leopard (1963).
Visconti was obsessed with Michael Mann’s 1912 novella Death in Venice. In the book, a writer in Venice becomes obsessed with a Polish boy called Tadzio.
Mann based this on an 11 year old Polish boy he saw in Venice called Władysław Moes (1900-1986), who was staying at the Grand Hôtel des Bains with his family in the summer of 1911. Here they are, with Moes centre left.
Visconti had a lifelong ambition to adapt the novella into a film.
That he began with its production in 1970. This eventually became the award-winning 1971 film—check out the old-school trailer.
Whilst the film gained praise from critics, what The Most Beautiful Boy in the World lays out is the distinctly worrying process behind its creation.
Particularly in choosing the character of Tadzio.
Visconti, who was gay, had a conveyor belt of teenagers rolled out as he waited for one to possess angelic beauty.
The moment they found their guy was recorded in an eerie audition reel seen in the film—the shy, uncertain 15 year old told to strip off to his underwear to see if he was fit for the role.
Yet Visconti later recounted he knew Andrésen was perfect the moment he saw him.
And in the aftermath of the film, the world promptly went berserk for Andrésen. The press latched onto him and dubbed the him The Most Beautiful Boy in the World.
The label stuck and Andrésen, still a teenager, was bandied about like a trophy.
Japan, in particular, latched onto him in that sometimes unerring level of worship they save for some Western idols. And it seems a bit alien to us here.
He starred in a few TV commercials and recorded some songs (to his credit, singing them in Japanese) as the hero worship continued.
Manga artist Riyoko Ikeda (now 74) was astonished by his beauty. And she penned the character Lady Oscar in his image, for the series The Rose of Versailles.
This formed the basis of Bishōnen (美少年), common in Japanese manga series to represent beautiful youth. And it’s all born out of Andrésen visiting Japan in the early 1970s.
If you’ve seen the likes of Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), even major organisations like Studio Ghibli channel the look for male protagonists.
Andrésen then had a period in Paris, where he was exploited further for the gain of anyone wanting to be seen near a youthful trophy.
Some people would revel in all of this attention, of course, but Andrésen wasn’t that type of person. Shy, sensitive, and introverted, he hated the limelight.
Beauty, and whatever your perception of that is, but especially when it’s a collective appreciation of a man/woman, often makes people go a bit weird.
It’s like wealth. The status symbol it provides—if you’ve got something so many people desire, society deems you better than the rest. You’re one of the special ones. Not every hot piece of butt thinks like that, of course, and Björn Andrésen is a classic example of rejecting the status forced upon him.
But the media and public fascination with beauty grows increasingly bizarre.
You can see it in the UK right now with tennis star Emma Raducanu (still only 19), who shot into the limelight in late 2021 after winning the US Open.
Great for her. On the downside, she’s been designated by the media as beautiful and has been besieged with online comments from (often much older) men. Plus, snarky women eager to wade in and criticise the slightest perceived physical flaw.
Raducanu has even already had to face a case of stalking at her London home.
Björn Andrésen set the standard for this global fascination in the early 1970s. What the documentary explores is how adults forced him into the situation, with little consideration for his state of mind.
His mother was murdered in 1966, something he still grapples to overcome to this day.
This meant he had to live with “Granny”, who encouraged his film pursuits primarily as a means for personal gratification. She wanted attention—she even got a Death in Venice bit part.
But once the media attention faded, Andrésen reaching his 20s, he had to move on with his life. More personal tragedies followed, one from which he’s clearly never going to recover.
Meanwhile, the architect of his rise to fame reached his end.
Visconti died on 17th March, 1976 at the age of 69 as a cinematic legend. However, as someone who smoked 120 cigarettes a day it wasn’t too surprising.
50 years after the peak of his fame, the documentary catches up with Andrésen in 2020, facing eviction from his small but comfortable flat, one which he’s let fall into disrepair.
He chain smokes. He drinks too much. He’s world-weary, but likeable, distinguished looking with his big beard and long grey hair. Ironically, still looking like a character from some Japanese anime.
As an exploration of his mental struggles, that the rest of the world has forced on him, The Most Beautiful Boy in the World is a melancholic documentary. Overwhelmingly so at times.
Yet Andrésen has the capacity to dust himself off, remain stoic, calm, and continue on his way.
And amongst the themes of exploitation by selfish adults, there’s really a strong sense of human resilience through all of this.
Although Björn Andrésen faded from global fame, you can’t help but admire the guy.
For dealing with so many tragedies with quiet, stoic grace. He now works as a musician, plus also had a small role in the 2019 folk horror film Midsommar.
Tadzio is long gone, but the story left behind is heartfelt and an examination of a sinister turning point in pop culture sexuality.