As well as being a lover of the fictional world of film, every now and then I like to immerse myself in the lives and experiences of others through watching documentaries and very rarely would I say that a documentary completely infiltrates my thoughts and changes my perspective on how each of our journeys through life differ.
Although, “The most beautiful boy in the world” did just that. It filled me with a great sense of sympathy for Björn (Who the doc is about) but also alerted to me of the idea of us all having in whatever shape or form what he describes to be an “inner darkness”.
The documentary- film follows the life of Björn Andrésen, a Swedish actor but aims to highlight specifically on the seismic shift that happened in his life when he was cast in his career- defining role as “Tadzio” in “Death in Venice”- a 1971 film by Luchino Visconti about an ennobled writer (in his fifties) who goes on holiday to Venice and comes across a boy of fourteen (Tadzio) who he becomes obsessed with and views as the personification of true beauty- at the tender age of fifteen.
Quite early in the doc, one is shown of Björn’s infamous audition for the film in which Visconti sat mesmerised by his beauty and asked him to take off his top and stand “half-naked” whilst smiling at the camera. A very young and reluctant Björn agrees and then is eventually asked to pose in only his underwear whilst they take more pictures of him. To say that this wasn’t a blatant form of objectification and sexualisation of a child would be ludicrous but sadly this is only the tip of the iceberg in Björn’s story.
As the releasing of the film is shown, one is made aware of how Björn was seen only as a commodity and a product in the eyes of Visconti and others who contributed to the making of the film. An idea shown through a contract that stipulated that Björn’s face was to be owned by Visconti for three years after the film’s release, but also how as soon as the film was made, he was thrown to the wolves. They had their film, so Visconti and the like didn’t care what happened to him.
What really moved me about the documentary overall was the contrast between Björn, now as man in his sixties, weathered by his personal tragedies- the first being the death of his mother as a child and another being the death of his infant son in 1987- to footage of him as a child with a kind of beautiful youthful ignorance evident on his face, no “inner darkness” to be detected.
It’s a sad tale but it made me realise the great vulnerability that comes with fame and having to live up to the title of “The most beautiful boy in the world”.