"DINA" — 3 stars — Dina Buno, Scott Levin; unrated; Broadway
Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles’ unique documentary “Dina” tells the story of Dina Buno, a 49-year-old widow preparing for her second marriage. Dina is autistic and suffers from a “smorgasbord” — her mother’s term — of health issues. Her tragic romantic past has made her new relationship that much more stressful, yet she remains determined to forge ahead into her new life.
Her fiance, Scott Levin, is also autistic and works as a greeter at a local Walmart. He’s never lived away from his parents, and one of “Dina’s” early stages sees him move out of their townhouse into Dina’s humble apartment.
“Dina’s” surface narrative follows Dina and Scott as they adjust to their new life together and prepare for their upcoming nuptials. We watch them go to the movies, take the bus together and go about their morning and evening routines. Most of the focus is on Dina as she goes about her days visiting family and friends and running various errands in preparation for the wedding (Dina is on disability and doesn’t work). We also see Scott getting up early for his job and watch him arrange produce at the Walmart garden center.
As the marriage approaches, various sequences — including a key stretch during a quick overnight trip to Ocean Beach, New Jersey (Scott’s first time seeing the ocean) — gradually reveal the tension that underlies the couple's plans: Scott is resisting sexual intimacy from Dina, who is nine years removed from the death of her first husband and still recovering from a violent episode that took place in a subsequent relationship.
This tension drives much of the rest of the film, as the progress to — and through —the wedding is peppered with Dina’s vocal frustrations. For example, in one scene she complains to her married friends about Scott’s lack of affection during a double date at a miniature golfing park — while Scott lingers awkwardly behind her.
There is a sweetness and a tenderness to many scenes that celebrates the innocence of the film’s autistic subjects, but at times “Dina” feels almost too intimate. Dina herself is an open book, more than happy to voice her opinions, but those around her — including her fiance — don’t always seem so unabashed (during Dina’s bachelorette party, a male stripper dances against one of her reluctant married friends in one of the film’s more cringe-worthy moments).
In the age of reality television and self-aggrandizing social media, the notion of having a camera follow your every move seems completely routine, if not exactly natural — even as you lounge on your honeymoon with your new husband in a private 10-foot-tall bathtub shaped like a cocktail glass. But “Dina” has a way of making this transparency feel especially raw.
“Dina” is shot in washed-out, desaturated tones, frequently in pastels, which seem to reflect the conditions of the couple's humble Pennsylvania circumstances. The film is very quiet and matter-of-fact and barely feels like a documentary. There are no breakaway interviews, no voiceovers, no contextual titles, nothing to suggest what you are seeing isn’t a regular, staged film performed by actors. You’re not even clear about Dina and Scott’s autism — or Dina’s romantic past — until well into the film.
Overall, “Dina” is very well executed, though some audiences may find it a little too intimate for their own tastes. It is a compelling portrait of a determined woman, and the more we learn about her past, the more determined we realize she is.
“Dina” is not rated, but would likely draw a PG-13 for some sexual content; running time: 103 minutes.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who also teaches English composition for Weber State University. You can also find him on https://www.youtube.com/moviereviewsbyjosh' target='_blank'>YouTube.