Visually stunning and morally disturbing, The Most Beautiful Boy in the World recounts the turbulent tale of Björn Andrésen, the child star with whom the world fell in love. 

Credited as being film’s first global teen idol, Björn Andrésen began his career at the age of 15 when he was ‘found’ by Luchino Visconti and launched to stardom with his role as Tadzio in the Death in Venice. Once beloved by Visconti, he found himself all too soon discarded by the director and left to fend for himself, an unforgivable neglect that would shape the rest of  Andrésen’s life. The Most Beautiful Boy in the World tells this story in fascinating depth, from his youth in Sweden and debut as Luchino’s ‘Beautiful Boy’ to his later years, where he struggles to avoid eviction from his filthy apartment – which he cheekily admits is an environmental hazard.

Director Luchino Visconti and his star Bjorn Andersen behind the scenes of Death in Venice, in Sundance documentary The Most Beautiful Boy in the World
Courtesy of Dogwoof

Within just ninety minutes the film weaves through an epic, mythical tale of adventure and loss, witnessing the tremendous, life-altering events that Andrésen has experienced. Even for hardcore fans of the figure, much of what is revealed will still prove shocking, let alone for the casually curious visitor to this strange land of beauty. 

Even before the age of sixteen, he has already overcome more trauma than most will face in their entire lifetime, be it the shocking disappearance and subsequent death of his mother, or his grandmother’s exploitation of his appearance and the abuses suffered at the hands of colleagues and handlers. Yet still, the world throws more at him, confronting him with even greater loss and personal demons that chase him throughout his life. Despite it all though, Andrésen remains gentle and kind, presenting himself with a candour that is truly courageous.

It is this brutal honestly – about the whole experience, but most of all his own part in it – that makes this documentary such an enchanting watch. It feels as though you are truly seeing a life play out in front of your eyes, gloriously propelled by old footage and audio, voiceovers and beautifully shot new footage. The result is a mesmerising product that pleases the senses even as it shakes the heart. 

Not satisfied with merely exposing the horrific underbelly of show-business and the crimes committed by, or against, all those who get swept up in the storm, this documentary offers insight into an even more haunting tale: that of a child forced into the spotlight and failed by every single adult who should have been protecting him – and for what? An extra role in a movie; a chance to become wealthy; an opportunity to make one’s name in the industry.

Horrifyingly, for all the unexpected revelations made in The Most Beautiful Boy in the World, the abundance of abuse that occurred is not all that surprising. A tale that feels as old as time, his story is achingly familiar: those in power taking advantage of the powerless, those who are in charge manipulating the young and innocent, those in a position of responsibility failing the ones they should most carefully protect. No wonder our shining star ends up dulled by life’s cruel blows.

Courtesy of Dogwoof

Not only Andrésen, but his subsequent partners and his own children are harmed by the trauma he endured in his youth. The scars he bears spread to other facets of his life, informing the ways in which he interacts with everyone around him. The Most Beautiful Boy in the World does an admirable job of giving a voice to these loved ones, telling their story – at least in part – while slowly untangling the messy web of Andrésen’s life until a clearer picture begins to emerge. There are lovers, children, maternal relatives, friends and, through it all, a boy who seems so desperately to want to love and be loved, even as he is unsure of how to make it happen. 

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World is undoubtedly a troubling watch, exploring some of the most difficult moments in Andrésen’s life, all while painting a very dark picture of the entertainment industry. Yet, for all the gravity and despair that this documentary holds, there are still moments of hope. Interactions between Andrésen and his girlfriend, Jessica, who appears to be his imperfect other half; precious moments shared with his daughter, reaching out after years of hurt and, of course, scenes where he excitedly shows us his new burgeoning career (on his own terms this time).

Indeed, it truly feels as though there is a whole world of wonderful possibilities awaiting Andrésen if only he can reach out and grab them. Whether he does or not is as yet unclear, but one thing this documentary makes clear is: this is not the last we will hear from Björn Andrésen. Not if there’s a shred of justice in the world.

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World releases in UK cinemas and on demand July 30th.