Rule of Two Walls as a Strategy of Resistance
By Olha Haidamachuk
The film Rule of Two Walls (2022), directed by David Gutnik, was part of the main program of the fourth Ukrainian Film Festival under the theme “No Time Like Home” in Berlin. The documentary was screened at Filmtheater Colosseum on the evening of 28th October 2023. Earlier, in the summer of this year, it received a special jury mention at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and truly deserves special attention. The film focuses on the experiences of artists during the first months of the Russian army’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. This is how we get to know Stepan, better known as Lviv’s rapper Palindrom; Liana, the director of the Lviv Municipal Art Center; the anonymous artist KinderAlbum; the artist-illustrator Bohdana Davidyuk from Lviv; Diana Berg, a Ukrainian artist, author of the project “Ukryttia” (“shelter”) and rights activist from Mariupol; as well as members of the film crew and others.
The film begins with a morning scene in an apartment in a high-rise building in Lviv. Surprisingly, considering the film’s title, we catch two main characters waking up in their bed, not in the corridor. The title “Rule of Two Walls” is explained during the film: the floor between the walls in a narrow space without windows is considered the safest place in an apartment. That is why entire families spent their nights here, avoiding the need to run to the bomb shelter every time the sirens sound at night.
The omnipresent alarming sounds of the sirens are the overarching tone and leitmotif of the entire film. While the sirens disrupt intimate moments, such as the tender look a young couple, Liana and Stepan, exchanges after waking up in the morning, the heroes calmly continue their morning routine, creating a certain dissonance for the viewer. Liana explains this distinct anti-panic mood in one of her reflections as a deliberately chosen strategy: “You need to look for some conditions so as not to become a burden to yourself.” Indeed, when a war persists for so long, it is dangerous to lose a sense of anxiety, but simultaneously, it is crucial to remain proactive. Accordingly, all members of the film crew (director, sound operator, videographer, etc.) also briefly tell their stories and share their reflections on this war and their own experience of psychological self-rescue in and through immersion in their work.
One of the film sequences features thirty-year-old Stepan, a member of an underground Lviv band and the creative mastermind behind the Palindrom project. In the scene, Stepan opens the balcony door sealed with masking tape and lets the scream of a siren enter the room. He steps outside to the balcony as if to confront the siren, and from there, we observe that beneath the windows, near the stadium, football players continue their game, seemingly oblivious to the blaring siren.
The director does not spare the viewer, transitioning abruptly from intimate tête-à-tête reflections of the film’s heroes (close-ups) as they grapple to comprehend their surroundings to various war scenes. For instance, we see all the unsettling details of a location where a Russian rocket has just exploded: the devastation it wreaked on everything in its path, cars standing abandoned in the middle of the road next to the bodies of civilians consumed by the flames. Rescuers are actively engaged in extinguishing the fire, with firefighters resembling figures in hell as they bravely tackle a burning building, risking their own lives. The scene also captures the desolation of rusty scrap metal from burnt-out military equipment. Moreover, we observe a car slowly crossing the river amid the ruins of a blown-up bridge. The film also shows the de-occupied cities of Irpin and Bucha, where the bodies of tortured Ukrainians are exhumed to document Russian crimes. We witness a haunting sight of black bags containing mutilated corpses of men and women spanning various ages. The impact is profound – many bodies, many graves, and poignant images of military cemeteries, as well as shots of charred ruins and remnants of cities consumed by fire. “The truth becomes very important; the truth becomes even more important!” says one of the residents of the Lviv shelter for artists.
The constant anxiety and minute-by-minute risk of death persist, regardless of one’s location in Ukraine. Reports of civilian casualties, not only in proximity to the front lines or under occupation but also in areas far from active combat zones, reflect on the inevitability of one’s own mortality: “I’ve always wanted for my death to be justified,” Stepan shares his thoughts. As he takes the stage and delivers his rap, bursting into a piercing scream, the audience responds with emotional support, eager to lift him on their shoulders. This is his way of replenishing his strength for further joint resistance and filling each day, which may be the last, with meaning.
Shocking scenes alternate with scenes showing infrastructure like – corridors – dungeons – roads – stairs – tunnels – or the subway. At times, these transitions take on virtual forms, transporting the viewer into the artistic realm of paintings depicting the war. The visual series of these paintings unfolds throughout the film in several waves, mirroring the pace of transitions through corridors or stairs, complemented by rhythmic or melodic accompaniment.
Similarly, frames of general shots alternate with close-up frames, capturing the people as they come into the focus of the lens. In these intimate moments, they share their stories, memories and reflections about the war and its impact on them. Sometimes, as in the case of the anonymous artist from Lviv, KinderAlbum, we do not see her face but can hear her voice in the conversation with Liana. During the artist’s monologue, we see the rhythmic scrolling of close-ups of her posters, designed to illuminate the horrors of war and its impact on innocent victims. She speaks with, through and by these posters.
Moreover, in the film, we observe artists putting up additional posters in public places in Lviv (with the inscription “We are not afraid of you, Russia”) to support the citizens’ resilience. With vivid imagery, these posters convey to people that the artists, standing with them in joint resistance, declare their fearlessness in the face of Russia and their readiness to resist collectively.
In one of the film’s scenes, we see Stepan in front of a mirror. Hence, the image of Stepan’s reflection in the mirror is telling in the film, conveying a feeling of being on the edge, somewhere between time and space, in a state of transition. In such a transition, it becomes crucial to establish a basis not only for collective stability but also preserving preservation of personal integrity.
Bohdana, a young artist-illustrator (her name means “given by God”), also feels the need to preserve her personal integrity: her words “to go through everything without losing yourself” have a meditative character. Focusing on this self-preservation, Bohdana tries to articulate her reflections on her attitude to God during the war: will she be able to remain the same person, with her faith, after the war? She tries to delineate the edges of her traumatic experiences with the prepositions “before” and “after”. However, if the beginning, referring to the past, is well-defined, then the end (after the war), instead of clarity, contains fuzzy hope for the future. The undefined future and security in it scare her. Beyond worrying about the threat to her physical and mental integrity, Bohdana fears the threat to her identity. Will her faith withstand the ordeals of war? And at what cost will she get to the “after the war” period? Crucially, what will that desired but undefined time “after the war” be worth to her?
The power of this expectation about the end of war, like the light at the end of the tunnel, leads through all transitions. In one of them, suddenly, we can meet a singing Ukrainian family right on the stairs, as in this film, skillfully performing a Ukrainian folk song in three voices a cappella. A siren calls them to a bomb shelter, but instead, they find space – according to the rule of two walls – between the walls of the entrance of a high-rise building, where they sit together on the stairs, waiting for the air raid to end. The old Сossaks’ song “Гей, була в мене коняка…”unites them in an anxious moment and, in fact, also serves as a shelter. The melody of the old folk song reminds the listeners of the strength and resilience of thе people and, like Ariadne’s thread, leads singers and listeners out of the labyrinth of their fear caused by danger.
In the middle of such a spiral of stairs without a beginning and an end, we also meet a sculptor from Kharkiv. In conversation with him, the border experience of a state of delayed (until better times) certainty is also manifested: while presenting himself as an atheist, he notes, contradictory, that “there are no atheists in war”. As if to explain this, he shares his observation that his former irony about faith has now lost its force. He felt like an atheist in peacetime but now finds himself in an uncertain, doubtful, in-between situation regarding his current religious self-identification. He does not directly talk about the past (“before the war”) nor about the wanted future (“after the war”). Instead, he generally states some kind of present (“in war”). Perhaps he cannot find a rational explanation for the fact that he is still alive and sees his creative activity as one of a trustful means of surviving.
The artist and human rights activist Diana Berg from Mariupol finds stability through activity in her professional sphere. In the film, her paintings and photos are presented with masking tape, mirroring the wartime practice of taping windows in Ukrainian houses. Serving as windows to memory, they cautiously unveil the past life, where, in particular, the theater in Mariupol remained intact and unharmed by Russian shelling.
The film footage captures not only Lviv, Mariupol, Bucha, and Irpin but also Kyiv and Kharkiv, including the Kharkiv subway and the iconic monument to Shevchenko covered with sandbags. Shevchenko, peeking out from under these sandbags, recalls another episode of the film, in which restorers extract beautiful examples of wall painting from under the white Soviet plaster of the walls in a pre-Soviet building. This can be described as a meeting with a hidden Ukrainian past, freed from artificial oblivion. Showing the Intonations of resistance against the alarming background of sirens is the overarching tone of the film, the leitmotif. The film Rule of Two Walls suggests that the slogan “everybody has to do their own thing” is one of the necessary components of a strategy of successful resistance.
About the Author
Olha Haidamachuk received her PhD in Philosophy from the V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University in 2021. Her dissertation is titled “Intonation in a Philosophical Text: The Philosophical-Culturological Dimension”. Her background is in philology. In 2006–2022, she worked at the National Technical University “Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute”. Since 2019, she is a member of the Kharkiv Historical and Philological Society. Her research interests include the philosophy of culture, philosophical anthropology, Ukrainian studies, Ukrainian and European culture, the philosophy of language, the history of philosophy, ethics, and aesthetics. Olha Haidamachuk was 2022/23 Prisma Ukraïna Fellow from September to December 2022.
Citation: Olha Haidamachuk, Rule of Two Walls as a Strategy of Resistance, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 07.12.2023, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/49661
Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
Forum Transregionale Studien (2023, 7. Dezember). Rule of Two Walls as a Strategy of Resistance. TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research. Abgerufen am 29. Februar 2024, von https://doi.org/10.58079/ut8g