Dir: Antonio Santini, Dan Sickles | Cast: Dina Buno, Scott Levin | Doc | US | 102′
Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles explore the joys and idiosyncrasies of an autistic Jewish couple who meet and marry in this poignant and quirkily humorous vérité portrait of love and companionship. DINA serves as an understated tribute to emotional resilience and an indomitable desire for human closeness.
Although there are clearly moments of awkwardness and embarrassment here, Santini and Sickles are never patronising, treating their subject matter with respect and dignity. DINA emerges an engaging and revealing study of human tenderness at its most touching and honest. 48 year-old-widow Dina Bruno is certainly forthright but not apparently autistic when we first meet her making arrangements for her second marriage to Scott Levin, who works in the local Walmart. She is clearly on the outer fringes of the ‘spectrum’ whereas Scott is possibly more affected. The two met at an outer Philadelphia social group for ‘neurologically diverse’ adults. Dina has been ‘retired sick’ after a stabbing attack from an ex (‘the psycho’) left her depressed and traumatised. Her first husband died of cancer.
Although the couple both seem keen on each other, it’s clear that Dina is the more experienced, sexually and emotionally, of the two. Living alone in a flat above a shop, Dina is armed with a strong sense of self-esteem and, although overweight, is happy in her skin with few of the anxieties that bug most modern woman. However, Scott has always lived with his loving parents and is possibly a virgin, admitting to masturbation and given to romantic crooning of “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”, but expressing a deep fear of tactile expression and sex. Something that Dina is determined to remedy, and Scott willing to learn.
Tenderness and tolerance are the watchwords of Dina and Scott’s relationship. They make a rather endearing couple on a bus trip to the New Jersey seaside for the first time, but when Dina presents him with a copy of The Joy of Sex, Scott is clearly out of his comfort zone. But sex – or lack of it – never becomes an issue between the two of them, simple another step on their journey towards mutual fulfilment. The wedding night is relaxed and informal with a focus on their enormous champagne glass-styled jacuzzi, rather than the lack of action between the sheets (“I wonder what a honeymoon is like for a passionate couple” – muses Dina, aloud).
Scott’s parents are a warmly supportive couple who encourage him not to worry when he breaks down in tears over his performance anxiety, and this contrasts sharply with Dina’s fractious relationship with her slim, blond mother who finds her daughter ‘self-absorbed’. The couple are clearly sociable and have regular meet-ups with close friends Monica Ferrero and Frank Costanzo, whose happy marriage gives Dina and Scott something to hope for.
The filmmakers avoid a judgmental approach leaving the couple plenty of space to express themselves freely without time pressures in this well-crafted indie that never overstays its welcome. There’s a feeling here that Scott and Dina are forging something worthwhile and wonderful – in a small way, but a meaningful one nevertheless. When two people decide to really make a go of things, the result is invariably a success!. MT
ON RELEASE FROM 20 OCTOBER 2017
GRAND JURY PRIZE DOCUMENTARY WINNER | SUNDANCE US