Greetings again from the darkness. 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 Lindstrom and Kristian Petri document the story of how Bjorn Andresen’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 Bjorn – then and now. Clips from his audition for Visconti include a creepy photo shoot where 15 year old Bjorn 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 Bjorn 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 hire help hide what was once a beautiful boy from the world.

When we first meet Bjorn, 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 Bjorn’s sister, a friend of his mothers, his Governess, Casting Director Margareta Krantz, and Bjorn’s daughter Robine. We learn of many tragic experiences Bjorn endured. These include his mother, an unknown father, his misguided Granny, and his 10 month old son. Beyond all of these unfortunate elements, we simply can’t shake the creepiness of Bjorn’s first meeting with director Visconti.

Exploitation is the best word I can come up with – not just for the audition and photo shoot, but also 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 Bjorn) 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.

Bjorn Andresen 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.

In theaters September 24, 2021


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