Review by Sean Boelman
There are several documentaries about the war in Ukraine in this year’s Tribeca Festival, and Rule of Two Walls seems to be the most unique. Taking a very different perspective from the one we might be used to seeing, David Gutnik’s film thrives in its uncommon — yet still extraordinarily empathetic — approach.
The movie tells the story of the artists who have remained in Ukraine through the Russian invasion of the country and continue to create their art despite the circumstances. What the film becomes is not only an interesting rumination on war, but also creativity, as we see the subjects’ art evolve over the course of the changing political discourse.
While this is a poetic approach to these themes and events the likes of which we have not seen before, it has no shortage of harrowing, emotional moments. The scene in which the meaning of the title — the “rule of two walls” — is revealed is an absolutely devastating moment bringing us down to the harsh reality of the conflict happening in Ukraine.
The most impressive thing that Gutnik does here is use juxtaposition extraordinarily well. We see the beauty of the art being created by the subjects against the war-torn landscape and the human aftermath of this conflict. It’s this contrast that makes the movie feel so starkly resonant and impactful.
Yet the overall tone here is one of hopefulness, and that is what allows Rule of Two Walls to stand out within the realm of Ukraine documentaries. Although there is all of this devastation and destruction happening, these artists — like the rest of the people of Ukraine — continue to persevere and live on, and this is a message that the world needs to hear right now.
The film boasts some very impressive cinematography from Gutnik alongside Volodymyr Ivanov. The art itself will likely be somewhat divisive for audiences — as much of it is an acquired taste, especially that of some of the musicians — but even if you’re not a personal fan, it’s hard not to admire what these artists are doing, and how wonderfully Ivanov and Gutnik captured it.
If the movie does make one mistake, it is perhaps painting with too sweeping of a stroke. The runtime is only 76 minutes including credits, yet we meet several different groups of artists. Although Gutnik effectively makes a broad point, we don’t get to spend enough time with any one person for the film to feel as intimate as it arguably needed to be.
Rule of Two Walls may not be as eye-opening as some of the documentaries about the conflict in Ukraine have been, but that does not make it any less essential. David Gutnik has created what might be the most hopeful movie about the subject yet — an important reminder of the humanity that unites us all in times of desolation.
Rule of Two Walls screens at the 2023 Tribeca Festival, which runs June 7-18 in NYC and June 19 through July 2 online.