A fine documentary on a controversial subject, Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski is a captivating piece of work.
If you’ve heard of Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski, it’ll likely be because the new Netflix Original documentary was produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and his father, George. But it should achieve its own success for how capably it delves into the life and work of obscure Polish artist Stanislav Szukalski, a suitably controversial figure whose story will satisfy art-history buffs, entertain the masses, and hopefully force viewers to consider their perspective on how to separate the creator from their creations – or if the two should be separated at all.
Containing lots of archive footage and loving, dynamic displays of the subject’s sculptures, Struggle still structurally resembles a three-act dramatic piece, introducing Stanislav Szukalski (13 December 1893 – 19 May 1987) and establishing him as an artist and a character before revealing a dark secret and leaving space for the audience – among others who regard him and his legacy differently in the light of revelations – to form their own conclusions on the man who died three decades prior to the release of the film that immortalises him.
Of course, as an artist, Szukalski was already immortalised, and the film ponders that idea of legacy often. Like many complicated and talented men throughout history, Szukalski also had many faults, some of which were unforgivable even to those who knew him and considered him a friend. The complicated relationship between artists and their art is reflected in the consideration of how an individual is weighed by the sum of their actions. Just as an artist has a masterpiece, a magnum opus, is there a dark inverse to the concept, a decision or action so deplorable that it can’t possibly be atoned for?
Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski leaves the audience to answer that question. But in the meantime it is an entertaining and educational installation of forgotten art and its kooky creator; further proof, as though it was needed, that the life and art of anyone are inextricably intertwined.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.