Review: The Most
Beautiful Boy
in the World

A moving and important documentary about life after Death in Venice

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Fifty years ago, the film Death in Venice was released. Directed by Luchino Visconti, based on the novella by Thomas Mann, it tells the story of a sickly, depressed composer (played by Dirk Bogarde) who becomes obsessed with a beautiful adolescent boy called Tadzio while visiting the water-bound Italian city. Taking its name from something Visconti said during the premiere of the film, documentary The Most Beautiful Boy in the World (30 July, selected cinemas region-wide) explores the life of Björn Andrésen, who was cast in the role of Tadzio, and the effect that the film, and that declaration of adoration, had on his life. 

Like Death in Venice itself, this is an unnerving, uncomfortable watch right from the start. We see a 15-year-old Andrésen paraded in front of Visconti during screen tests for the film, asked to remove his clothes and pose for the camera. There’s a vacant and sad look in the boy’s eyes. Abandoned by his father and left in the care of his “granny” most of the time he’s obviously unprepared for the storm that’s about to hit him. When Death in Venice has its premiere, he becomes an overnight pin-up, objectified and fetishised, and his life will never be the same again.

Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri’s documentary flicks effectively between fascinating archive footage and contemporary film and interviews. We’re introduced to Andrésen now in a shambolic Swedish flat where he’s battling eviction and cared for by his wonderfully outspoken girlfriend – who shares the viewer’s outrage at the treatment he’d received as a young man. Andrésen recounts tales of trips to gay bars where, desperate to escape the attention of those around him, he got so drunk he can’t recall getting home, and he talks about being fed “red pills” to help him cope with the endless cycle of press events. There’s also an interesting foray to Japan, where Death in Venice was a massive hit and where Andrésen spent a lot of time after the film’s release, not only becoming a huge celebrity but also apparently inspiring a lot of manga artists along the way.

Of course, for every Andrésen, there are many young women who were and likely still are treated in an appalling way by Hollywood, but this is an effective and important portrait of someone used and then spat out by the industry way before anyone had uttered the words Me Too.

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