This is the story of an impoverished Swedish boy and an Italian of noble birth. They become indelibly linked when the Italian catapults the orphan onto the global stage. Within months, the two say adieu. The wealthy aristocrat continues his charmed life; the child is abandoned in the ether. It’s the aftermath of this encounter that gives breath to this fascinating tale.
It’s 1970. Lucino Visconti is a movie maestro who dines with the likes of Coco Chanel. He’s directed a slew of successful films and his latest project is Death in Venice. It’s a drama about a sickly composer who becomes dangerously fixated with a 15 year-old boy. He casts Dirk Bogarde as the lead but is unable to find an actor to fill the role of the boy. He leaves Italy in pursuit of a perfect face. His search doesn’t end until he disembarks in Sweden.
Bjorn Andresen is 11 years-old when his mother disappears. He and his sister are taken in by their maternal grandmother. She has a casual approach to parenting but is enthralled by the idea of celebrity. She thinks Bjorn has a charisma that the screen will love and sends the reluctant actor out on auditions. Her instincts are proved correct when Visconti hires him on the spot. Death in Venice goes into production and is premiered at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival. It’s here that Visconti declares Bjorn to be “the most beautiful boy in the world.” The press pick it up and, within hours, it’s gone viral. A teenage idol is born.
Bjorn is now 65 and time has not been kind. Wiry grey hair tumbles down his back and his beard is unkempt. His face is gaunt and his energy depleted. It’s therefore a surprise when Jessica, a beautiful woman who’s decades Bjorn’s junior, introduces herself as his girlfriend. While relationships based on physicality are, of course, superficial, Bjorn’s pre-occupation with his own needs is very clear. It seems that all he has to offer is his past glory … or perhaps a role for an aspiring actress in his upcoming documentary. The curse of the life that took this young Swede’s soul seems reluctant to leave.
Although Bjorn is a figure deserving of sympathy, that sympathy is tested when he admits he treated his children no better than he got treated himself. We meet his daughter, who’s kind enough to pay her father occasional visits. She has affection for Bjorn but her adeptness at keeping the conversation on the surface tells a story of its own. While Bjorn admits to his failings, he has made no attempt to make amends with anyone, including his only child. It’s therefore easy to fathom who his tears are really for.
Visconti died in 1976 and there is a museum in Italy dedicated to his work. Bjorn lives anonymously in a Spartan rental. However far these two men travelled, they were only ever heading back home. It’s fatalistic and provocative but how the circle of life keeps so many in their place, especially erstwhile icons.
Directed & Written by Kristina Lindstrom & Kristina Petri
Produced by Mantaray Film, Kattgrand 10, Stockhold 11825
Distributed by Juno Films
Premiered at Sundance Film Festival January 29th, 2021