Rule of Two Walls (2023) ‘Tribeca’ Review: ‘The rule of two walls’ says that two walls can save one from danger (usually a corridor or a hallway) during a missile strike. One wall will likely take the damage and collapse, whereas the other wall can protect a person from broken window glass, shell splinters, etc. Ukrainian-American filmmaker and editor David Gutnik’s Rule of Two Walls (2023) offers a devastating portrait of today’s Ukraine, exposed to Russia’s imperialist invasion, through its artists, who have chosen to stay and amplify their commitment to the art. The ruins of war are omnipresent, yet various artists defiantly fight against Russia’s vicious erasure of Ukrainian culture.

Divided into three chapters, Rule of Two Walls opens in Lviv, Ukraine, in April 2022, nearly two months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. We follow a bunch of artists – from rappers, performance artists to painters and filmmakers – who convey the nightmarish, unforgiving reality of war. While it is nearly impossible to live with these experiences, the creative process of making art becomes self-therapy. Stepan Burban is a singer and composer who expresses the anger and frustration of the Ukrainian youth as well as injects hope for them through his songs.

Lyana Mytsko is a concert organizer and the founder of the Lviv Municipal Art Center, which has also become a shelter for displaced people and war evacuees. Diana Berg is an activist artist whose art installation ‘Shelter’ is featured in the documentary. Her art speaks of Russia’s attack on the cultural heritage of the Ukrainian city, Mariupol. Serhii Petrov, aka Bob Basset, is a Kharkiv-based artisan leather-worker. He has created internationally acclaimed wearable art objects. Bob discusses his faith and the trauma of leaving Kharkiv with his family. Most importantly, he speaks about how the Ukrainian invasion isn’t just about Putin’s imperial fantasies but is more about the civilizational rift, i.e., being Ukrainian means choosing to live in a modern society striving for development rather than toiling under dictatorship.

Bogdana Davydiuk is an exemplary illustrator who makes street art, murals, and mosaics. “Our fire is stronger than your bombs,” says one of her illustrated posters. Finally, there’s Kinder Album, who makes ‘intentionally primitive’ drawings of vulnerable, naked bodies of women and children. Her depiction of Ukraine’s current plight is unusual and hard-hitting. Rule of Two Walls doesn’t stop at directing its lens on the defiant artists who chose to stand in front of the camera. David Gutnik’s documentary also turns the camera on the people committed to documenting the chaos and disorder.

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

Director David Gutnik discloses his Ukrainian roots through a heartwarming look at the old family album photos. He speaks about how the Ukrainian language was suppressed during the dominating reign of the Soviet Union and how he is now trying to learn the language. David Gutnik journeyed from America to Ukraine through Warsaw in April 2022. Rule of Two Walls gives space for the perceptions of other courageous film crew members, including cinematographer, music composer, and producer Olga Beskhmelnitsyna.

For these artists, art is much more than a tool to alleviate the agony of survival amid war. In a way, they are continuing the centuries-long battle against the Russian imperialists, who deem that Ukraine doesn’t have a culture of its own, and hence it’s not a separate nation. Putin’s devious war campaign also makes similar false statements about the Ukrainian people and their culture.

As an artist espouses, “If so many people generate so much discussion and discourse around Ukrainian culture and history, then how can it not exist?… I think we don’t need to yell and stomp and scream. All you have to do is open your eyes and look at us.” The Russians’ attempts to obliterate Ukrainian culture don’t even leave beautiful murals painted at an apartment. During the Soviet rule, the murals were painted over with chalk. Some artists are engaged in the process of removing the chalk to restore at least a few of the murals.

Rule of Two Walls, of course, is a very tough documentary to watch. The artists’ words are often juxtaposed with the raw, unvarnished imagery of rubble and human casualties. The blaring air-raid sirens, relentless missile strikes on civilian areas, the fatigue on the face of internally displaced Ukrainians, covered-up monuments, corpses of people shot in cold blood, damaged roads, and charred bodies – there are quite a few sorrowful and shocking visuals in the documentary.

Rule of Two Walls ends with an emotionally charged concert by Stepan Burban. The closing image shows a girl with a bicycle navigating her way through a stationary freight train stuck in the damaged tracks. It’s an imagery of struggle as well as hope and perseverance. Overall, Rule of Two Walls (76 minutes) is an urgent and potent look at artists’ confronting the forces of destruction.

Rule of Two Walls was screened at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival

Rule of Two Walls (2023) Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes

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