Streaming spotlight: seven deadly sins

Cinema's tales of temptation

by Jennie Kermode

This week we take a look at the sinful side of cinema with seven films that sum up the darker aspects of human behaviour and the compulsions that any of us might fall prey to. All available to stream online, these are films that will thrill you, disturb you, make you think and, sometimes, make you want to run away, for very different reasons.

Sympathy For Mr Vengeance
Sympathy For Mr Vengeance

Wrath - Sympathy For Mr Vengeance - Amazon Prime, BFI Player, Shudder

Anger is never more difficult to control than when it stems from a desperate need for revenge. Everybody in Park Chan-wook's violent fable has been hurt, most of them impacted by forms of violence for which no-one is directly responsible, but when the kidnap of a child goes horribly wrong, the stage is set for an ordinary businessman (Song Kang-ho) to embark on a terrifying campaign of violence. Though there are occasional gory scenes, the film is powerful not because of the viciousness it depicts but because of how well it captures the intense emotions of all those involved and, ultimately, the uselessness of their actions.Park has no need to labour the point that nobody is saved, simply immersing us in the moment. Followed by Oldboy and Lady Vengeance, the film was also important in the development of a new wave of Korean cinema which took a direct, unsparing approach to issues previously explored only in more restrained and formal ways.

Amadeus
Amadeus

Envy - Amadeus - Google Play, Amazon Prime, Rakuten TV

If one believes in God, one much struggle to understand Him, and to reckon with the conundrums this presents. Why does there seem to be no relationship between talent and virtue? In Milos Forman's sumptuously rendered drama, F Murray Abraham plays Antonio Salieri, and it's a role any actor might envy. Agonised by the accomplishments of the naturally gifted Mozart (Tom Hulce), whom he increasingly perceives as childish and monstrous - though Forman's direction implies that there's more going on - he embarks on a cruel scheme to turn the tables, in the process moving further and further away from the God he claims he wishes to praise. Elizabeth Berridge plays the young wife desperately trying to keep Mozart from working himself to death, there are lavish costumes designed by Theodor Pistek and made by the team at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre, and of course there's Mozart's music, sublimely rendered by musicians from across Europe.

Wall Street
Wall Street

Greed - Wall Street - Amazon Prime

"Greed is good," said Michael Douglas' Gordon Gecko, and more than one leading economist has attributed the financial scandals of the late Eighties and early Nineties to the fact that some viewers took him at face value. Oliver Stone's film was intended as a cautionary tale but Douglas is magnetic and it's easy to see how Charlie Sheen's naif young stockbroker becomes fixated on him - easy to miss the bitter consequences if you don't watch to the end. Do so, because this isn't just a formulaic tragedy - it's witty and darkly entertaining all the way through, and perfectly captures the Zeitgeist of an era when millions dreamed of going to the city to make it big as a stockbroker, often under the illusion that the money was free and nobody would get hurt in the process. Despite the success of later films like The Wolf Of Wall Street and The Big Short, nothing has distilled the deadly allure of greed quite like this.

Luce
Luce

Pride - Luce - Sky Go, Now TV

There are contexts in which a degree of pride is a good thing. it's understandable that adoptive parents Peter (Tim Roth) and Amy (Naomi Watts) would feel proud of their son Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr), who has gone from haunted Eritrean refugee and former child soldier to a star student who seems to have the world at his feet - but do they have a right to be? How much is it their achievement and how much is it his - and just who is he, anyway? When teacher Ms Wilson (Octavia Spencer) makes a disturbing discovery in his locker, urgent discussions about his future ensue. She tries to talk to him about the importance of making a good impression for black people in the US, but he has a very different perspective. Issues around race, responsibility and hidden prejudice come to the fore as the adults struggle to cope with a teenager who seems smarter than all of them - but it's the vulnerable streak Harrison Jr finds in his character that ultimately gives this its power.

Death In Venice
Death In Venice

Lust - Death In Venice - Amazon Prime, Google Play

There are any number of films out there that deal with the subject of lust through overt eroticism, with lots of sex and glamour. This is something different, finding its sensuality in Luchino Visconti's lush depictions of a decaying city and in the music of Thomas Mahler, whose story it meshes with the work of Thomas Mann. Dirk Bogarde plays Gustav von Aschenbach, an ageing composer who becomes obsessed with a beautiful teenage boy - a boy who blooms into adulthood as his admirer gradually loses his mind. Deliberately discomfiting like Hilda Hidalgo's Of Love And Other Demons or Dominik Moll's The Monk, it doesn't invite the viewer to share Aschenbach's passion but, rather, compares it to the cholera that is ravaging the city. Increasingly ridiculous in his attempts to recover his youth, Aschenbach takes on a Lear-like quality, trying to hold on as merciless time strips him of everything.

Society
Society

Gluttony - Society - BFI Player, Amazon Prime

The image of the wealthy man marked out by his corpulence as others struggle to earn a crust is perhaps the oldest form of satirical art. Brian Yuzna takes it a step further here in this, the no-holds-barred carnival of grotesquerie that made his name. It follows teenager Bill (Billy Warlock), who has enjoyed the advantages of growing up in a wealthy family but somehow just never quite fitted in. There's a reason for that, and a horrible fate awaiting him if he doesn't wise up fast, in a story that's all about breeding and the way the privileged classes prey upon the poor. Yuzna's style being what it is, there's a literal aspect to this, but what we are ultimately made privy to goes far beyond the indulgence of cannibalistic appetites and really has to be seen to be believed. You won't want to eat anything for quite a while afterwards.

The Beach Bum
The Beach Bum

Sloth - The Beach Bum - Amazon Prime, Chili

Everybody loves a bit of sloth. It's easy to feel sympathy for charismatic individuals who take it to extremes, as in the likes of Withnail And I, but if given free rein, this can easily lead to tragedy. Harmony Korine's playful and indulgent but sharp-eyed comedy drama features Matthew McConaughey as literary one hit wonder Moondog, one of those guys who wanders from party to party basically doing whatever he likes, charming people out of whatever he wants and never taking responsibility for anything. Though this looks on the surface like just another stoner comedy, Korine is smarter than that, showing us the cost of Moondog's behaviour (generally borne by others) and revealing the psychopath beneath the lighthearted banter and the silly clothes. Viewers who find themselves drawn into the dream of living a carefree life in the sun will feel all too acutely the emptiness this leaves behind.

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