VOD film review: Dina
Dina and Scott8
Warmth and humour8
Matthew Turner | On 20, Oct 2017
Directors: Antonio Santini, Dan Sickles
Cast: Dina Buno, Scott Levin
Watch Dina online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Co-directed by Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles, Dina tells the story of Dina Buno and Scott Levin, an autistic couple who met at a Philadelphia social group for neurologically diverse adults and are planning to get married. As the title suggests, the focus is largely on 48 year old Dina, a strong-willed, eternally optimistic woman, who refuses to be daunted by the traumas of her past.
In the early stages of the film, Walmart greeter Scott moves into Dina’s small apartment, in part to assess their compatibility before their wedding. It’s here that their differences become readily apparent – Scott is further along on the autism spectrum than Dina, and, although he’s very vocal about his love for her, he has difficulty with showing physical affection, and at times seems actively terrified about the prospect of sex.
For her part, Dina is very understanding, although she’s desperate for an element of passion in their companionship and constantly tries to nudge Scott in the right direction, persuading him to massage her feet after they watch an episode of Sex and the City and, in a sweetly awkward moment, buying him a copy of The Joy of Sex and paging through it with him, while they’re on a trip to Atlantic City. Her mounting frustration forms a key part of the tension of the film, particularly when Scott admits to pleasuring himself, but can’t seem to make the connection that this be something he might enjoy with his fiancée.
Dina herself is an extraordinary character, having already lived through the death (from illness) of her first husband and survived a violent attack from another ex-boyfriend, the full horror of which is brought home late in the film. By that point, we’ve come to know Dina very well, so to hear her surprisingly calm voice, when the directors layer the horrific 911 recording over a shot Dina and Scott sitting on a bench at dusk, is both heart-breaking and shocking.
The directors have been granted remarkable access to Dina and Scott, largely because Sickles has known Dina all his life, since his father met her when he founded the Aktion Club for adults with disabilities. That access extends to touchingly intimate conversations and even the camera’s presence in their cheesy hotel suite on their honeymoon, complete with a hilariously kitschy hot-tub shaped like a cocktail glass in the middle of the room.
At times, the scenes are so well staged and photographed that they feel scripted, giving the film the feel of an indie rom-com, something that’s heightened slightly by the inclusion of a rather sweet score by, of all people, Michael Cera. To that end, it’s impossible not to wonder how the cameras just happened to be present for particular moments, but it never feels manipulative or false.
In addition to the film’s empathetic treatment of an important issue, there’s plenty of warmth and humour, courtesy of Dina’s ever-engaging personality. Her relationship with her exasperated mother is a particular high-point, while the footage of Dina and her friends hiring a male stripper for her hen night is funny and excruciating at the same time.
Sweetly charming, thought-provoking and deeply moving, this is an emotionally engaging and frequently funny documentary, right up to its perfect final scene.
Dina is now available in UK cinemas and on digital HD.