Famous filmmaker Luchino Visconti traveled across Europe in 1970 to find the “perfect beauty” to star in his next film Death In Venice.
The successful candidate is expected to have the ravishing looks that audiences might think were enough to distract the character of Dirk Bogarde, a sick and aging composer.
But Visconti was not looking for a woman, he was looking for a teenager. He found what he was looking for by launching a 15-year-old Swede, Björn Andrésen, to play a Polish boy in a sailor suit named Tadzio.
A year later, in London, for the world premiere of the film in front of the Queen and Princess Anne, Visconti proclaimed Andrésen as “the most beautiful boy in the world”, a breathtaking hug taken by some film critics who hailed his girlfriend with hair almost supernatural beauty as on a par with Michelangelo’s David.
He became an overnight superstar – the most admired face in the world – only for his fame to become a “living nightmare” that marked him for life.
Visconti’s ‘cutest boy’ remark may have been primarily a marketing stunt, but it has become a cornerstone around Andresen’s neck for decades.
Because, as revealed in a new documentary film, The Most Beautiful Boy in the World, which plunges into the heart of a hopelessly tragic life, Andrésen would have been much happier if he had never met Visconti, whom he describes as a “Cultural predator” who cynically exploited and objectified his youth and his appearance.
Björn Andrésen, a 15-year-old Swede, pictured playing a Polish boy in a sailor suit named Tadzio in Death in Venice. He became an overnight superstar – the most admired face in the world
The documentary revives troubling questions about the ethics of a production that has become a cult gay film. Bogarde was openly gay, as was Visconti, who said his male lovers included Italian director Franco Zeffirelli and Umberto II, the last king of Italy.
He was 63 when he directed Death In Venice (based on a short story by German writer Thomas Mann, also gay) with a predominantly gay crew. But Andrésen wasn’t gay – and even if he was, he had just turned 15 when he auditioned.
Far too young, he said, to be turned into a sex object which Visconti took to gay nightclubs and which later became a trophy for wealthy Parisians who lavished gifts and meals on him so they could do so. scroll.
To make matters worse, he was an orphan – a shy child whose grandmother had a fatal fame addiction that made her the last person who should have been trusted to protect him.
After spending years battling alcoholism and depression, Andrésen remains a troubled soul. He now lives alone in a squalid apartment, chain smoker, bickers with his long-suffering girlfriend, and in trouble with his landlord for leaving his gas stove on.
Death In Venice is hardly a movie that we plan to do in Hollywood now. The documentary includes footage of Visconti measuring lines of boys who walked past him on a Europe-wide quest for a Tadzio that has spanned years.
‘How old is he? Older, isn’t it? Visconti asks a Swedish-speaking casting director as Andresen shyly poses for them at a casting in Stockholm on a cold February day in 1970. “Yeah, a bit. He is fifteen, answers the casting director. ‘Fifteen? Very beautiful, ”observes Visconti. “Could you ask her to undress?”
Andrésen is obviously baffled but ends up stripping down to his trunk, as a photographer leaves and a delighted Visconti makes it clear that he has found exactly what he was looking for.
It was a defining moment in Andresen’s life and not a good one, he and his family now say.
“It was like swarms of bats around me. It was a living nightmare, ”Andrésen says of the fame and attention he was woefully ill-prepared for. “I was a sex object – Big Game”.
Curse of Glory: Björn Andrésen with Dirk Bogarde in the film. Andresen’s relationship with Bogarde is not addressed in the documentary, although the former told The Mail in 2003 that the star was “always very courteous.” . . very nice and very british ‘
Now 66, he’s still striking – although today he looks more like a thin wizard with a nicotine-stained beard and white hair that runs halfway down his back. However, as the haunting documentary reveals, Andresen’s life was marked by tragedy years before he entered Visconti’s orbit.
Her bohemian mother, Barbro, never revealed her father’s identity to her (he still doesn’t know her) and made no secret that she wanted more out of life than being the mother of Björn and her. half-sister.
He remembers standing behind her when she was little as she silently looked out the window and thought, “When I grow up I’ll save Mum.” He never got a chance – when he was ten she disappeared and police found her six months later in the woods after she apparently committed suicide.
The children went to live with their maternal grandparents in Stockholm and the family never mentioned their mother again.
Young Björn never wanted to act but dreamed of being a pianist. His grandmother, who wanted at least one of the children to be famous, had other ideas.
He had previously appeared in a film, a 1970 Swedish romantic drama, when he auditioned for Death In Venice. He was paid $ 4,000 for his role in the film.
Despite the frequent lingering glances Andresen and Bogarde exchange in the film, Visconti has publicly downplayed any idea that there was anything sexual between them. “It’s a love story, a pure story. It’s neither sexual nor erotic, he says half-heartedly.
Andresen’s relationship with Bogarde is not addressed in the documentary, although the former told The Mail in 2003 that the star was “always very courteous.” . . very nice and very British ”. Bogarde, the only foreigner who cared about how to pronounce her name correctly, taught Andrésen how to bow to the queen when he met her.
Two months later, the film was presented at the Cannes Film Festival. After the main festival banquet, Visconti and his friends took Andrésen to a gay nightclub where he sensed the waiters and guests staring at him and he drank in a “just to shut up” stupor.
Much to her dismay, he has become a sex symbol and, for some, a gay icon. He received bags of mail from fans of teenage boys and passionate adult men.
He then visited Japan where he was mobbed by fans in scenes comparable to Beatlemania and, in fact, recorded a few songs.
Back in Europe, he continued to play but struggled to shake off his nickname “the most beautiful boy in the world”. In 1976, he came to Paris for a film. It never came to fruition but he stayed for a year despite being penniless.
A host of rich people paid for everything, covered him with meals and expensive gifts, provided him with an apartment and gave him 500 francs pocket money a week.
“I must have been damn naive because it was kind of like, ‘Wow! Everyone is so nice, ”he says now. “I don’t think they treated me out of kindness. . . I felt like [a] wandering trophy. ‘
The documentary does not address the question of whether he has ever succumbed to the advances of a man. He told the Mail 18 years ago that he felt a passing confusion about his sexuality in his 20s and had a homosexual experience. “I did it more or less so I could say I tried it but it’s not really my cup of tea. It was no more serious than that, ”he said at the time.
Andrésen pictured now, in his sixties. His acting career turned out to be so unsuccessful that he repeatedly broke it off to work as a music teacher.
He insists that he always preferred women, even though even here he had problems. After getting used to snapping his fingers and calling girls running, he admits he’s never learned to flirt.
Despite this, he managed to marry a poet named Suzanna Roman after having a daughter, Robine, in 1984. However, tragedy struck again three years later when their nine-month-old son, Elvin, passed away. Andrésen was lying in his bed next to him, numb after an evening of drinking, as his wife took their daughter to kindergarten.
Despite being a sudden death, he blames himself for the tragedy, claiming he had been an inadequate father. “Their diagnosis is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, but my diagnosis is Lack of Love,” he says. The family has collapsed. “I fell into depression, alcohol, self-destruction in every way imaginable – it was an ego trip. Poor me, me, me.
Andresen’s acting career turned out to be so unsuccessful that he repeatedly broke it off to work as a music teacher. He disappeared from public view so completely that some thought he was dead until he reappeared in 2003, when a photo of him was used to illustrate the cover of The Beautiful Boy, the ode. from Germaine Greer to the beauty of young boys.
Andrésen complained publicly that he never gave permission and said, after being exposed to it, that the lust of adults – by men or women – for teenagers was nothing to celebrate.
He still suffers from depression and, judging by the film, often has tears in his eyes.
If ever there was any living proof that beauty can be a curse, it endures in the form of the boy whose childhood was stolen by a very manipulative director.
The most beautiful boy in the world is in theaters from July 30.