The Most Beautiful Boy in the World: The Story of Björn Andrésen

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World 2021 documentary

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.

Władysław Moes with his family in 1911

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.


  1. Wow, I had no idea the face behind the Bishounen craze was this poor kid, nor did I know Lady Oscar of Rose of Versailles was based on him. I haven’t read that manga, but one of my close friends is really into it. Yeaaaah…a lot of that stuff sounds really sus especially since he was a child asked to strip down to his underwear. I’m sure that didn’t help the false narrative already surrounding gay men at that time :\ Well, I learned something new today so hats off to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a big part of manga that was kind of lost to time I guess. I mean, he’s Howl in Howl’s Moving Castle etc. Can’t help but feel sorry for him, though, just shoved into the situation and given very little option. I didn’t mentioned in the review, but Visconti whacked a three year contract on him. He was basically property.

      For everything new you learn that’ll be $70, please! That’s the way capitalism works these days. I accept cheques.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s heartbreaking actually, and tbh it seems to STILL be par for the course with how child actors are treated. There’s a movement to stop children from being actors (I feel like you might’ve mentioned that, too), though I wonder what the alternative would be? Not that there needs to be or should be an alternative with ethical issues, but I feel like there’s more that can be done to protect kids of course.

        Oh no! That’s like $500 in America money because the dollar is becoming worthless D:

        Liked by 1 person

        • CGI kids? That might work. I doubt that movement would work, it’s a bit late for it given how vast the entertainment business is. I don’t think there’s a way around it, either. Puppets?

          Better to get in place proper procedures and standards to ensure nothing like Death in Venice happens. I should imagine it differs from one actor to the next. With The Shining kid, Kubrick went well out of his way to protect him. Spielberg has always done the same. Visconti just seemed like a bit of a dick.

          Liked by 1 person

          • It seems like it varies from director to director, which means there needs to be industry standards because you can’t just rely on the directors re: Visconti being terrible. I have no clue what to do about it either. There are so many things that wouldn’t be the same and I think it could be done with at least mitigating damage, but then I think about what Millie Bobby Brown went through and I just seethe.

            Liked by 1 person

            • What also alarmed me is Visconti’s 120 cigarettes a day habit. Healthy!

              I think the overriding feeling often seems to be, “They should be thankful to be in the film! It’s a big lucky break early in life.” Without any thought of the long-term effects. HOPEFULLY! It is much better these days.

              Liked by 1 person

Dispense with some gibberish!

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