Hot Docs Review: ‘Don’t Worry, the Doors Will Open’

Oksana Karpovich’s film is an assured debut

4 mins read

Don’t Worry: The Doors Will Open
(Canada/Ukraine 76 min,)
D. Oksana Karpovych
Program: Canadian Spectrum

“Nothing to do, no one to punch,” says a cigarette-smoking teen-ager, riding on a rattle-trap commuter train, in Don’t Worry, the Doors Will Open. The sentiment could be expressed by bored adolescents anywhere but it’s particularly characteristic of the sardonic humour that pervades Oksana Karpovich’s aesthetically assured debut feature documentary.

The doc, which took best film honours at the New Visions competition at last November’s Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM), is a homecoming project for Karpovich, who emigrated from Ukraine to Canada in 2013. She set her sights on dilapidated electichka workers’ commuter trains, a functioning relic of the Soviet past, and favoured transportation of poor and rural people.

We travel on uncounted journeys past unglamorous backends of towns and verdant country sides, in poorly heated winter and unventilated summer cars, day and night, accompanied by a soundtrack of the rattling train and human voices. Along the route we see generations of travellers, babushka-clad grandmothers, middle-aged workers, youth in the international uniform of T-shirts and jeans, sleepy children and young soldiers, napping and doing word puzzles.

Up and down the aisles, vendors sell foot-fungus and hemorrhoid creams.. At the station an elderly woman sells dry buns from a plastic sack and a busker with an accordion, sings energetic ballads. One man in his late-middle-ages, wearing a clown’s shaggy fringe of hair around a bald dome, sells newspapers, magazines and maps to the passengers. After losing his factory job at the end of the Soviet era, he says, he was initially ashamed of selling papers but has grown in his social role.

Don’t Worry does not reflect the Ukraine of political scandals or the Russian war in Donbass but the subject of rising prices and the war are threads in the conversations, sometimes circumspectly. One man, whose face is never shown, says he would never agree to fight in the war (“I can’t make someone’s child an orphan.”). He’s had his fill of violence: he says he spent 12 years in prison, after beating a purse snatcher so badly he left the man disabled.

Trains are confined spaces, and while the film finds enough visual variety shooting down corridors and through windows and doors, the crew makes no secret of its presence on the train. Passengers frequently address them directly.

In one scene, the newspaper and magazine salesman, during a stop, teases the off-camera filmmaker, assuring her that hardship is “more fun” than boring comfort in Canada. “The worse life is, the more we enjoy it,” he says, while the bun saleswoman beside him attempts to hush him.

Every once in a while the door opens. In one scene, a couple of laughing girls climb down from the stopped train, cross the tracks and down a tree-lined road, and go for a swim in a small rural lake.

Don’t Worry, the Doors Will Open screens at Hot Docs’ online festival beginning May 28.

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival.

Liam Lacey is a freelance writer for and POV, Canada’s premiere magazine about documentaries and independent films.

Previously, he was a film critic for The Globe and Mail newspaper from 1995 to 2015. He has also contributed to such publications as Variety, Cinema Scope, Screen, and Entertainment Weekly, as well as broadcast outlets CBC and National Public Radio.

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