The Most Beautiful Boy in the World review – devastating exposé of showbiz abuse

This documentary tells us how the most beautiful boy in the world became its saddest man, his life damaged by the exploitative abuse that the movie business incidentally hands out to all those beautiful girls in the world without anyone caring or making documentaries about them.

In 1970, Björn Andrésen was a shy, clever and musically talented 15-year-old from Stockholm, living with his ambitious and showbiz-happy grandmother who kept putting him up for auditions. Björn caught the hooded eye of Italian director Luchino Visconti, casting his film version of Thomas Mann’s novella Death in Venice, and looking for a boy to play the entrancing young Tadzio, who mesmerises the ageing composer to be played by Dirk Bogarde on the Venice Lido. Visconti was thrilled by Andrésen’s unaffected charm and breathtaking beauty; he made the boy a star, but showed not the slightest interest in taking care of this vulnerable child or protecting him from the cynical and predatory hangers-on who were to play a great role in messing up Andrésen’s young adulthood, and contributed to the tragedy and heartbreak of his personal life.

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World shows Andrésen now in his late 60s, affecting a Gandalf-type beard and long grey hair that make him look 20 years older. Visconti emerges very badly from this documentary: the 1970 audition film shows him leeringly telling Andrésen to take his clothes off, and – unforgivably – Visconti makes boorish jokes at the Cannes press conference in front of Andrésen about how his young star is already losing his looks. It would be nice to think Visconti was like Wilde’s Lord Henry Wootton, passionately engaged with and exalted by Dorian Gray’s beauty. Instead, Visconti seems to have shrugged and moved on to the next thing, leaving Andrésen to a chaotic afterlife of recording pop songs in Japan (where he became a star) and making a few movies and accepting pocket-money payments from dubious “producers”.

It is a desperately unhappy story, sympathetically told by film-makers Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri. As mentioned above, I would have liked to hear some feminist analysis of how Andrésen’s agony is visible in a way that the ordeal of young female stars generally isn’t, and to hear from his ex-wife Suzanna Roman or even the film-maker Roy Andersson, who was in fact the first director to cast the actor, in A Swedish Love Story (1970). Inevitably, the documentary shows the ageing Andrésen on the Lido, looking wistfully out at his intercut younger image from the film. Maybe it will bring him some closure and peace.

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World is released on 30 July in cinemas.


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