New Film Explores how Italian Film Director Luchino Visconti Screwed-up a Young Man’s Life
In 1971, renowned Italian film director Luchino Visconti announced he had cast “the most beautiful boy in the world” as Tadzio in his new film, Death in Venice. Co-directors Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri document the story of how Björn Andrésen’s life took him from beautiful to broken. It’s a tragic tale of how adults wrecked a young man’s shot at happiness.
The directors do not shy away from showing both sides of Björn – then and now. Clips from his audition for Visconti include a creepy photoshoot where 15-year-old Björn is asked to bare his torso. Two things are clear: the youngster is quite uncomfortable, and he’s truly beautiful by most anyone’s standards (except for the “Eye of the Beholder” episode of The Twilight Zone). Modern-day Björn sports the scars of life. Deep facial wrinkles are the price of decades of smoking cigarettes. A long gray mane of hair punctuated with heavy facial hair helps hide what was once a beautiful boy from the world.
When we first meet Björn, he’s living in a filthy (truly disgusting) apartment and facing eviction. His girlfriend Jessica helps him clean the place, preventing him from having to move from his home of many years. Over the course of the documentary, we hear from Björn’s sister, a friend of his mother’s, his governess, casting director Margareta Krantz, and Björn’s daughter, Robin Andrésen. We learn of many tragic experiences Björn endured. These include his mother, an unknown father, his misguided granny, and his 10-month-old son, Elvin. Beyond all of these unfortunate elements, we simply can’t shake the creepiness of Björn’s first meeting with director Visconti.
Exploitation is the best word I can come up with – not just for the audition and photoshoot, but also for the subsequent marketing appearances at film festivals. Death in Venice (based on the Thomas Mann novel) has long been entrenched in gay cinema lore, and in the movie, Tadzio (played by Björn) is the object of an older man’s desire. Knowing what we do of Visconti, and seeing what we do in the audition clips, our mind goes places we would rather it not.
Björn Andrésen is an unusual subject to choose for a documentary, and not much time is spent on the adult life of the now 66-year-old man. Connecting the dots of the tragedies in his life makes his current situation understandable, but this is a man who has taught music and continued to periodically act…he has a memorable scene in the recent Midsommar (2019), yet his demeanor and physical appearance leave us seeing a shell of a man. This is certainly not an uplifting profile, but the cautionary tales are plentiful.