In 1975, David Bowie released Young Americans. One of Bowie's most influential works, the album contained some of the more notoriously beloved bangers of the mid-1970's. These tracks include the delirious ‘Fame'. For those who haven't listened to the song, Bowie highlights the spiralling nature of excess, control, and the loss of identity with repetitive chord-progressions and an exasperated vocal performance. In recent years, many have looked back at the song, due to its increasing relevance in our current economy. There's something about Bowie's display of inciting insanity through the internal developments of social recognition that strikes as purely universal. In many ways, the song which Bowie sings is a very similar replication of Björn Andrésen artistic career. In the documentary The Most Beautiful Boy In The World, directors Kristina Lindström & Kristian Petri highlight the illustrious and tragic career of Andrésen and his peculiar relationship with the production of Death in Venice and beyond. While the film doesn't contain a single ounce of Bowie and his toe-tapping tune, the film overall is pensive and strikingly reflective work of non-fiction storytelling.
For context, Luchino Visconti was an eccentric man; a director perpetuated by the stigma of beauty standards. When Björn Andrésen was cast in Death in Venice, his career spiraled into a whirl-wind of eccentric labeling and aggressive promotional stunts. Specifically after the opening night premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, his life changed forever when Visconti labeled the child as the “The Most Beautiful Boy in the World”. He became a poster boy worldwide, where he was even set with a casual record deal in Japan and the occasional advertisement endorsement. Heard of the manga and anime series The Rose of Versailles? Prepared to be shocked by Björn's contribution to the cherished franchise. The point is that Andrésen was played by a system that was always against him. The standards of the general public was all that mattered at the time.
After decades of shrouded public knowledge, Andrésen's own story has finally come to light. In the first half of The Most Beautiful Boy in the World, Lindström & Petri highlight the timeline and aftermath of Andrésen's career reputation. The film is a hybrid between archival super-8 film from re-collected home-movie stock, live digital footage, and various staged tableaus & slow-motion photography that enhance the internalised regret and remorse of Björn's actions and career. A man still trying to forgive himself through intensive trial and tribulation, the film uses a unique framing device of taking very real abandoned locations and adding a cultural connotation to these staged scenes. For example, at the start of the film, we see Björn linger around the hallways of a ram-shambled hotel — a luxurious resort that resembles a similar building to the iconic structure featured in the film Death in Venice.
Throughout the film, the hybrid-style never becomes grading. Lindström & Petri have a clear dedicated talent in when to properly execute these staged moments, without becoming intrusive nor indulgent in self-referential aesthetics. Where the film truly tumbles is in its examination of Andrésen's personal and family life. Highlighting the tragic events of his early childhood, the film handles Andrésen's affairs with a great amount of delicate craft. The issue more relies upon the merging of the two halves, where The Most Beautiful Boy in the World becomes less about the bi-product of fame, and more of a profound deconstruction of the cycles of trauma and familiar bloodlines. The two essential thoughts relatively work together overall. However, it's the strange tonal shift between the two ideas that come off as unfocused.
The shift isn't a deal breaker by any means. For a film that acknowledges Andrésen's personal space and his own spiritual journey, there's a certain level of emotional catharsis that radiates throughout the short runtime. It's clear that Lindström & Petri have a great amount of respect for Björn, and it's demonstrated in nearly every scene when depicting his harrowing adult years. The Most Beautiful Boy in the World is a film that cares less about being the next major non-fiction cinematic landmark, and more exists for the sake and purpose of educating the general public. It's a piece of informative filmmaking that exists to be an essential reminder for those unsettled by the cycles of trauma and the reality that exists behind every short-lived career in the limelight.
Dir: Kristina Lindström & Kristian Petri
Cast: Björn Andrésen, Luchino Visconti
DOP: Erik Vallsten
Runtime: 94 minutes
The Most Beautiful Boy in the World premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival as part of the World Cinema Documentary Competition category. The film will screen again virtually on January 31st. Juno Films will release The Most Beautiful Boy in the World in the coming months.