The Most Beautiful Boy in the World – Film Review
by Hugh Maguire
Directors – Kristina Lindström, Kristian Petri
Writers – Kristina Lindström, Kristian Petri
Stars – Annike Andresen, Björn AndrésenSilva Filmer
The immediate thrust of this film is quite clear, it is self-evident in the poster alone. It focuses on the Swedish teenage beauty, Björn Andrésen, selected by the great Italian director, Luchino Visconti (1906-76) to play Tadzio, the focus of obsession (or Angel of Death) in his film Death in Venice (1971), adapted from the novella (1912) of the same name by Thomas Mann (1875-1955).
More than slightly creepy to modern eyes, the opening of the film shows wonderfully evocative footage of Visconti in full aristocratic mode (he was an aristocrat after all) selecting from the many blonde hopefuls – like a butcher selecting a side of beef for the chop. For all the strains of Mahler and moody views of Venice, it will leave an unpalatable aftertaste for many viewers as we learn how Andrésen was literally plucked from obscurity and thrown to the wolves of media celebrity. Wheeled out as an object of porcelain-like untouchable beauty at the Royal Film Premiere in London, Cannes Film Festival not to mention the underworld of the predatory middle-aged gay male, for which he was ill-prepared – beauty or no beauty. But the film is much more than a tale of exploited young beauty – it morphs into something more subtle, a contemplation of life and death and life’s mysterious trajectory.
We learn how this child of beauty was scarred from the outset, with a troubled childhood, a self-obsessed grandmother, and additional personal tragedies, which would damage anyone. And yet as an older man, still strikingly good-looking, like a stylish Swedish Willie Nelson, we follow him on his travels of re-discovery or at least re-engagements with the scenes of his teenage years from Venice itself to a crazy diversion to Japan. Little did we know that following the success of Death in Venice that Andresen became an object of considerable cult-like obsession in Japan, and through the medium of manga the representation of an ideal Western male beauty for millions of Japanese, which still seems to be going strong. Japan aside, Andrésen has had a rough ride – and not only ill-equipped for Visconti but ill-equipped for life itself, domestic hygiene not being one of his virtues! But for all the grimness and tragedy we are nonetheless transported into a story of survival and reconciliation with what has gone before. Beautifully shot and sensitively handled, and all combined with wonderful time-piece photographs and home movies – there is something memorable about it all – perhaps an inevitabilty– like some tale of Greek mythology where the gods punish those who challenge their beauty. But Andrésen has survived and we are all the richer for knowing the tale behind the beautiful mirage he once represented on the Lido di Venezia.