SUNDANCE 2021 World Cinema Documentary Competition
Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri • Directors of The Most Beautiful Boy in the World
“That was a big thing for us: who is the boy? Not Tadzio, but Björn?”
by Marta Bałaga
- We found out why the directors of the documentary on Björn Andrésen decided to take a different route to Luchino Visconti
After his stint as Death in Venice's angelic Tadzio in 1971, the life of 15-year-old Björn Andrésen was never the same again. But in their new Sundance-screened documentary, The Most Beautiful Boy in the World [+see also:
interview: Kristina Lindström and Kris…
film profile], Swedish filmmakers Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri look beyond the face – one that didn't launch a thousand ships, yet still refuses to leave the public consciousness.
Cineuropa: Just when I started to think I had heard it all, I saw your film and discovered that Lady Oskar [an anime series written and illustrated by Riyoko Ikeda] was modelled after Björn Andrésen!
Kristian Petri: It's Björn's life: the image of this young boy has survived throughout his entire existence. It's out there, and there are so many fan sites dedicated to it. It's a cult! It gives you some idea about the impact that Björn, and his beauty, made at that time.
And yet the moment that was supposed to be just the beginning almost became an end – already during that Cannes press conference, with Visconti joking that he was not that good-looking any more.
KP: He was already done with the film, but Björn had to live with this image. It was like some parallel existence, almost outgrowing him. That was a big thing for us: who is the boy? Not Tadzio, but Björn? And how did this film affect him? He was reluctant at first, not particularly interested in talking about Death in Venice. As he said, it has destroyed his life. He would open one door and then you would find another: “Oh, so he has a daughter, too?”
Kristina Lindström: When it came to certain parts of his life, we would wait until he was ready. We moved around, we travelled together, and then we would just sit down and talk. And he would tell us something he had never really discussed before. He identifies as a musician, but he is also an actor – the camera didn't bother him at all. Kristian knew him before, but I didn't, so I would ask him a lot of questions. I was the digger [laughs]! But we decided to take our time. He had to be ready – that was the key. Then we discovered all these new pieces, like the sound tapes of him as a child or old phone calls, recorded by his aunt. It was new for everyone involved.
KP: His mother made vinyl records, which sounded a bit like messages from beyond the grave – she would read poems and talk to the kids. It was much more than we could have ever anticipated.
There is some kind of emotional breakthrough that happens here, one assumes. Even his daughter observes that now, every time they talk, he is crying.
KP: We wanted to be the opposites of Visconti, obviously. Before, he would find himself being exploited, so we decided to be there for him, all the time: when it seemed that he was going to be kicked out of his apartment, when his daughter came to his place for the first time in 11 years, when he had a fight with his partner. After a while, we were a part of his family. We were filming for five years, and it took us one year before he let us into his home. Which is usually rather normal when you are filming somebody [laughs].
KL: I think it took over two years! We made this film with him, not about him. At one point, he went: “OK, we are doing it together, so now you have to meet my child.” We knew he had to be included. After all, it's his life.
This desire not to sensationalise him any more is understandable. Now, as he is much older and a bit hermit-like, his looks could once again garner unwanted attention.
KL: His daughter says that she looks at him now, at his beard and his long hair, and she thinks that he is trying to cover up the face that everyone used to recognise. It's almost like a mask. But the funny thing is that his appearance is still quite astonishing.
KP: He is so tall that you go: “Jesus, who's that?” This is, of course, just speculation from my side, but when they were shooting Death in Venice, he was a happy kid – it was an adventure. Jumping on the bed, playing: he was all over the place, so full of life. The problems started once the film was done. When he moved onto other roles, he was criticised for being “too beautiful”. Cary Grant was told the same thing; people wouldn't take him seriously. I never had that problem myself, but I can imagine that you start to worry that someone is talking to you only because of your looks. “You don't want me; you want the face.”
Seeing his casting session now is obviously an uncomfortable watch. At one point, Visconti says, “There is no risk of slipping into sexuality,” referring to him and his character, but this material tells a different story: a story that so many actresses know only too well.
KL: He confessed that he knows how women feel, how it feels to be objectified. In a way, the fact that he was a boy only made him lonelier. Suddenly, there were all these people, contacting him and wanting him.
KP: He was so vulnerable, parentless. These people, it's like they can smell insecurity. It's a #MeToo-ish story – about power and the abuse of it.
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