For those whose familiarity with the story of the Russian feminist punk protest band is limited to news reports, this is a disturbing glimpse into modern Russia.

The three women convicted of hooliganism and imprisoned after a 30-second performance in a Moscow cathedral in early 2012 are members of a group whose membership fluctuates around a dozen. The film is a striking portrait of smart guerrilla artists with a razor-sharp protest agenda.

Yes, there's a strong feminist backbone to their ideology - the film has a bleakly hilarious running gag in which various Russians essay a literal translation of the band's pungently evocative name - but their plain target is President Vladimir Putin and his cynically opportunistic alliance with the Russian Orthodox Church in a country with a supposedly secular constitution.

Comprising the band's video diaries and news and courtroom footage, the movie doesn't vigorously defend the specifics of the cathedral action but it is plain the punishment is disproportionate, particularly since the hooliganism statute requires proof of motivation by religious hatred.

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One of the most unsettling sections shows members of a conservative group, the Carriers of the Cross, who look like members of a medieval ZZ Top, speaking of the women as demons and lamenting the passing of the days when they could be burned as witches.

More disturbing still is the depiction of a country in which freedom of expression is as marginalised as in the Soviet era.

Stars: 4/5
Director: Mike Lerner
Running time: 88 mins
Rating: M (violence, offensive language, sex scenes. In Russian with English subtitles
Verdict: Disturbing and eye-opening

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- TimeOut