Gripping conspiracy thriller, pretentious art biopic, timely political documentary – ‘The Russian Woodpecker’ is all this and more, crammed into 80 minutes. Our frontman is Fedor Alexandrovich, an unwashed, self-involved and fantastically irritating Ukrainian conceptual artist keen to find out what really happened to his home town of Chernobyl when the sirens sounded at the nuclear plant in 1986. His theories are compelling, as is haunting footage of the blasted Chernobyl site and its massive, mysterious radio antenna.
Fedor’s interviewing style may be primitive – he basically stares narrowly at former nuclear plant workers like a confused scarecrow – but it is effective. He turns up some fairly damning evidence to suggest that the leak was no accident. And when protests in Kiev in the here and now turn into a full-blown revolution, Fedor is on the front lines, trying to talk the soldiers down like a true, flower-bearing hippy. He’s both the film’s central flaw (there are points where you really do want to punch him in the face) and its greatest asset: a ball of kinetic, loopy energy determined to dig up dark secrets.