Review: ‘Rule of Two Walls,’ starring Lyana Mytsko, Stepan Burban, Diana Berg, Bob Basset, Kinder Album, Bohdana Davydiuk and Iryna Hirna

June 9, 2023

by Carla Hay

Lyana Mytsko and Stepan Burban in “Rule of Two Walls” (Photo courtesy of New City/Old City)

“Rule of Two Walls”

Directed by David Gutnik

Ukrainian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ukraine from April to November 2022, the documentary film “Rule of Two Walls” features an all-white group of people who were affected by the Russian invasion war that began that year.

Culture Clash: Several artists show resistance to the Russian invasion in various ways as their lives remain in danger.

Culture Audience: “Rule of Two Walls” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching a documentary about the horrors of the Ukrainian war from an artist perspective.

Lyana Mytsko in “Rule of Two Walls” (Photo courtesy of New City/Old City)

Harrowing and inspiring, the documentary “Rule of Two Walls” sometimes gets unfocused in its cinéma vérité style of showing how some Ukrainian artists responded to and were affected by the war that began in 2022. It’s still very insightful filmmaking. “Rule of Two Walls” had its world premiere at the 2023 Tribeca Festival.

Directed by David Gutnik, “Rule of Two Walls” was originally going to be about Ukrainian refugees in Poland, according to Gutnik’s statement in the “Rule of Two Walls” production notes. He adds, “But by the time I crossed the border into Ukraine, it was clear to me that I was going to make a film about Ukrainians who stayed.” Gutnik is American, but he says most of his family members are from Ukraine.

“Rule of Two Walls” (which was filmed in Ukraine from April to November 2022) opens with a seemingly idyllic scene of two live-in lovers in their 30s waking up together in bed at their home in Kharkiv, in April 2022. They are artist Lyana Mytsko and musician Stepan Burban, who are featured prominently in the movie. Stepan says his gall bladder hurts. Lyana jokes that Stepan must be getting old, “Little Stepanko, 95 years old.”

But this domestic bliss soon gets a harsh reality check, because the Russian invasion war on Ukraine had begun in February 2022. Mytsko comments that in these times, it’s important that the couple’s “windows haven’t been blown out yet.” Later, Mytsko (who describes herself as an “activist” and a “feminist”) is the director of the Lviv Municipal Arts Center, which features some of her own artwork. The fate of the arts center is in jeopardy because of the war. The National Art Museum of Ukraine is also featured in the documentary.

Throughout “Rule of Two Walls,” artists are shown talking about how their lives and their art have been affected by the war. Burban performs industrial rock music and is the lead singer of his band. He begins writing more protest songs. Burban is shown performing with his band to an enthusiastic crowd of mostly young people who are angry about the war.

Photography artist Bob Basset shows his collection of photos of people wearing gas masks. Two young women are shown putting up a handmade poster that reads, “We are not afraid of you, Russia. We hid our monument because we don’t want you to see our shame.” In the documentary, Mytsko explains that since the war began, what she expresses in her art is “to regain some control over all this crazy shit.” Bohdana Davydiuk and Iryna Hirna are two other Ukrainian artists featured in the documentary.

A female artist, who did not want her face shown on camera, seems to have a specialty in painting nude people. The movie’s end credits identify her as Kinder Album. She shows the paintings she made of real horrors of war that she witnessed.

One of her more disturbing paintings shows a naked woman kneeling, with her hands tied behind her back. She is surrounded by standing soldiers, who are seen from the neck down. One of the soldiers has his pants down, as if he is about to rape or just raped the woman. Another painting shows a woman cleaning a large pool of blood on a street.

The overall sentiment of the Ukrainian artists interviewed in the documentary is one of defiance in refusing to let Russia erase or take over their land, their lives and their culture. Art curator/manager Diana Berg, who is also an artist, comments in the documentary: “No war can deprive us of our culture and traditions. When [Russian president Vladimir] Putin says we [Ukrainians] have no culture, we have no nation.” She adds sarcastically, “Does that mean everything we create is Russian?”

Sensitive viewers should be warned that “Rule of Two Walls” also has several scenes of murdered bodies (most are human and some are animals) on streets. In one scene, bodies that were set on fire are seen with smoke still coming out of the ashen remains. It’s a jolting but necessary look at the tragedies and incalculable loss of lives during this terrible war.

Not all of the imagery and subject matter in “Rule of Two Walls” are completely depressing. Mytsko tells a heartwarming story of how people teamed up to rescue a cat that happened to be fairly well-known in the area because of the cat’s Instagram following. It seems that fame has privileges, even for animals in a war. An unidentified man talks about bringing food and other aid from Lviv to Kyiv. He had to send his wife and son away, for their own safety.

Gotnik has a “no frills” approach to this film and only inserts himself into the movie in the last third of the documentary, when he briefly shows himself on camera and talks about how all of his bank accounts have been frozen (he suspects the Russian government is behind it), so he is temporarily stuck in Ukraine. “Rule of Two Walls” sometimes has a rambling tone that occasionally makes the movie look disjointed and in need of tighter film editing. However, the documentary succeeds in its intention to juxtapose the damage of the war with the resilience and vibrant spirit of the Ukrainian people.

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