Director David Gutnik (Materna, Tribeca 2020) returns to the Festival with a raw, atmospheric portrait of today’s Ukraine through the lens of the artists who have chosen to stay. The film’s subjects are Gutnik’s intimate collaborators in exploring what it means to navigate the jarring rhythms and surreal juxtapositions of life under the shadow of war. A young couple wakes to air raid sirens and has tea on their balcony. Neighborhoods lie in ruins, and the community comes together to sweep up broken glass and rubble. Scenes of utter devastation provoke insomnia and numbness — yet friends gather to relax in a bar, an art center pushes ahead with a new exhibition, and artists redouble their commitment to their craft.
While their lives are getting irreversibly altered, these subjects see their practice as a survival tool in a conflict aimed at cultural erasure as much as brute domination. The film beautifully documents how their work — as visual artists, musicians, street artists, performance artists, and filmmakers — both processes the moment and offers hope. Visceral, poetic, and urgent, Rule of Two Walls illuminates the vital role of cultural and spiritual defiance in times of crisis.––Robert Winn