New film explores how Italian director Luchino Visconti messed up a young man’s life

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In 1971, the famous Italian director Luchino Visconti announced that he had chosen “the most beautiful boy in the world” as Tadzio in his new film, Death in Venice. Co-directors Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri document the story of how Björn Andrésen’s life turned him from beautiful to broken. It is the tragic story of how adults destroyed a young man’s chance for happiness.

The directors are quick to show both sides of Björn – yesterday and today. Snippets from his audition for Visconti include a spooky photoshoot where 15-year-old Björn is asked to bar his chest. Two things are clear: the youngster is quite uncomfortable, and he is really handsome by most people’s standards (with the exception of the episode “Eye of the Beholder” by The twilight zone). Modern-day Björn bears the scars of life. Deep facial wrinkles are the price of decades of smoking. A long gray mane punctuated with thick facial hair helps hide what was once a handsome boy from the world.

Björn Andrésen is a scene from “The most beautiful boy in the world”.

When we first meet Björn, he lives in a dirty (really disgusting) apartment and is in danger of being evicted. His girlfriend Jessica helps him clean the place, saving him from moving out of his home for many years. During the documentary, we hear from Björn’s sister, a friend of his mother’s, his housekeeper, casting director Margareta Krantz and Björn’s daughter, Robin Andrésen. We learn from many tragic experiences Björn endured. These include his mother, an unknown father, his lost grandmother and his 10 month old son, Elvin. Beyond all of these unfortunate elements, we just can’t shake the goosebumps of Björn’s first meeting with director Visconti.

Exploitation is the best word I can come up with – not just for the audition and photoshoot, but also for subsequent marketing appearances at film festivals. Death in Venice (based on Thomas Mann’s novel) has long been steeped in the tradition of gay cinema, and in the film Tadzio (played by Björn) is the object of an older man’s desire. Knowing what we are doing with Visconti and seeing what we are doing in the audition clips, our mind goes to places where we would rather not.

Björn Andrésen is an unusual subject to choose for a documentary, and little time is devoted to the adult life of the now 66-year-old man. Connecting the dots of the tragedies in his life makes his current situation understandable, but he is a man who taught music and continued to perform periodically… he has a memorable scene in the recent one. Environment (2019), yet his behavior and physical appearance let us see the shell of a man. It is certainly not an uplifting profile, but uplifting stories are plentiful.

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