The strikingly tall, long grey haired Björn Andrésen may be instantly familiar to modern cinemagoers as the elderly gentleman from Ari Aster’s brutal cliff jumping scene in A24 arthouse horror Midsommar, yet Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri’s documentary The Most Beautiful Boy in the World unpicks his unconventional beginnings and surprisingly challenging life as a teen star, examining the lingering shadow over the actor’s life.
The Most Beautiful Boy in the World, the name given to Andrésen by Lucino Visconti who hand-picked the then fifteen year old for the role of Tadzio in 1971’s Dirk Bogarde starring Death in Venice. Filmmakers Lindström and Petri chronicle Andrésen’s rise to stardom as a result of the role, exploring how the challenges of fame paired with turbulent familial circumstances and personal demons would continually remain part of the actor’s life.
Intercutting narratives of past and present which delve into Andrésen’s life from his casting in the 1971 Thomas Mann adaptation to his current challenges including relationship unrest with girlfriend Jessica Vennberg and the looming threat of eviction from his disorderly flat, giving an indication of the manner of which Andrésen’s past still looms over him. Erik Vallsten’s cinematography captures the grimy realism of these contemporary locations – from the dark, dilapidated qualities of Andrésen’s flat to revisiting quietly haunting locations from the actor’s past in similar disarray.
This theme of past channelling into present is also seen in Andrésen’s physical transition – the striking blonde locks and naturally beauty of youth (Mann comparing the character of Tadzio from Death in Venice to the Greek god Eros) transitioning into the harsh present showcasing Andrésen’s gaunt and aged appearance. Lindström and Petri adorn the feature with plenty of archive footage capturing Andrésen’s youth during casting, filming, and on the promotional trail in London, Cannes and Tokyo for the Visconti masterpiece – balancing this with the actor’s stratospherically intense rise to fame in Japan. The filmmakers skilfully build this sense of unease amidst the glamour of celebrity particularly as Andrésen reveals his discomfort at this exploitation from uncomfortable experience as a child in gay clubs, forced performances, Japanese musical endeavours, and potential for six personal appearances in one evening. Whilst the feature makes reference to Visconti as a protector of the young Andrésen on-set, this role slipped and became less prevalent after the film’s release.
The Most Beautiful Boy in the World sees Andrésen return to Tokyo in present day, pairing this with the exploration of his past there – something repeated when Andrésen’s time in Paris is discussed – allowing the actor to give frank and open accounts of his time there. Scenes including the Swedish actor performing one of his Japanese pop hits in an empty bar have a sparse Lost in Translation style quality, whilst archive music and performance videos convey how out of place this young Swede was whilst performing over Japanese chocolate ads. Interestingly the filmmakers delve into Andrésen’s striking Western looks being an influence on the world of Manga further cementing the cult actor’s surprisingly rich and global legacy.
Andrésen should be commended for the vulnerability which he displays here. Turbulent phone-calls with his girlfriend are shown, as is the diving into the tragedy of his mother’s mysterious death, the lack of awareness as to who his father is, and the tragic death of his newborn son. A touching scene in a National Records office which sees Andrésen read into the details of his mother’s crime scene deliver a real emotive punch, with the Swedish actor serving as an endearing, sympathetic and somewhat tragic figure.
This examination of man piecing together something of a fractured life is a haunting, engrossing account of the weight of fame near fifty years on. Filmmakers Lindström and Petri capture the idea that like beauty, fame can be short-lived but the damaging aftereffects can linger for a lifetime. There is a captivating emotional honesty on display here – yet not entirely melancholic thanks to its hopeful conclusion showcasing that it is never too late for a new beginning.
The Most Beautiful Boy in the World – released in cinemas 30th July