Bjorn Andresen is a shambling 66-year-old, with Gandalf’s white flowing hair and beard, but it is his lost and sad eyes that hold a secret clue to his past.
For Bjorn, the subject of Kristina Lindstrom and Kristian Petri’s documentary was known 50 years ago as “ the most beautiful boy in the world”.
His face on billboards from Cannes to Tokyo advertised his role in Luchino Visconti’s iconic film Death In Venice, where the shy, lost-looking 15-year-old became an oversight sensation, playing opposite Dirk Bogarde. And he also became a Gay icon, with his cold, statuesque appearance and smouldering sexuality.
It’s interesting to see rushes of that famous movie and marvel again at Bjorn’s beauty, but this documentary is deeply disturbing on many counts. First there is the predatory nature of Visconti’s unhealthy obesession with the boy – making him strip half naked at his awkward audition.
And Visconti’s possessiveness is disturbing too – Bjorn’s contract was for 3 years and effectively Visconti owned the boy and his image for that period.
But this film is multi-layered. In the 66-year-old’s own words we learn of his troubled life, both before and after Death In Venice. Living as a teenager with his pushy grandmother, who bathed in the limelight of his fame, the story unravels to reveal a deeply troubled life. His mother, having disappeared for months, is found dead in local woods, when Bjorn was still very young.
And his mother would never reveal the identity of Bjorn’s father, a second blow to the child. Though Bjorn went on after adulthood to have a long career in modelling and acting, there was yet more tragedy to befall him. Not to give every plot twist away, suffice to say that the troubled son becomes a tragic father.
This is truly a film of loss, secrets, a searching for truth and reconciliation. The final sequences of the film show the old Bjorn looking wistfully to sea, intercut with the equally sad-eyed teenage Bjorn looking back at him in scenes from Death In Venice. It haunts us as much as it obviously still haunts Bjorn.
It’s a mesmerising watch.
It’s released in cinemas and on demand on 30 July