Fashion & Trend

A New Film Asks: What Happens to the Very Young, Very Beautiful Star When the Movie Is Over?

Björn Andrésen and Luchino Visconti shooting Death in Venice.Photo: Mario Tursi

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World opens with shots from that casting room, the moment that Andrésen’s life changed. Plucked from his grandmother’s cabin in the Swedish countryside, he finds himself on set in Venice, where he says Visconti gave him essentially only four directions: go, stop, turn around, and smile. After the film’s release, he’s thrust into a whirlwind of publicity with premieres in London (with Queen Elizabeth in attendance) and at Cannes, “when the real circus started,” as he puts it. He was terrified by the swarm of attention and the overnight superstardom, calling it “a living nightmare.” In the years that followed, Andrésen would find great fame in Japan, where, in short order, he became the country’s first idol from the West, recording pop songs in Japanese and appearing in candy commercials, his face inspiring a generation of manga artists.

But the film eventually takes its viewers to a very different place. Now in his 60s, Andrésen lives in virtual squalor in a cramped Stockholm apartment. With flowing grey tresses and a beard covering half his face like a rock-god Gandalf, he seems to intentionally obscure the comeliness that made him an international celebrity. (In a small but memorable role in Midsommar he cut a very different profile from his youthful endeavors.) The Most Beautiful Boy in the World is one of the few documentaries to dwell so gravely and persuasively on how sudden fame can ruin a young life, bypassing any perks of stardom. Andrésen’s discomfort as a teenage boy—half-naked in front of Visconti in the casting room, doing press at Cannes, on TV show sets in Japan—is palpable.

Bjorn Andresen in 2018Photo: courtesy of MantarayFilm

Weaving effectively between archival material and the present, the film unfolds with surprising poignancy as it sketches Andrésen’s remarkable but tragic path, studded with trauma and tragedies both in and out of the limelight. Many experiences are left gently unfilled—at a gay club on the French Riveria where drinks flowed, in Paris apartments supplied by shadowy men, onstage in Japan after he’s given unidentified pills to put him at ease. And yet, the suggestion is enough. That this story of objectification centers on a man makes it more uncommon but no less poignant.

We finally witness Andrésen’s return to Venice in the present day, stalking the beach where he once twirled in Technicolor wearing a boater and Edwardian bathing suit. How much has truly changed for young, vulnerable actors in the intervening five decades is yet unclear.

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and has been acquired by Juno Films for distribution.

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