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Review: Dina

November 3, 2017

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Dina Buno is a middle aged woman in Philadelphia who has autism and a “smorgasbord” of other challenges as her mother puts it, and Dina is a candid vérité documentary that follows her as she prepares to marry Scott Levin, who has Asperger’s syndrome and works as a greeter at Walmart.

Directors Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles follow them with both compassion and respect, the camera merely observing their lives and not interfering, allowing us to watch as Dina and Scott spend time with their respective families and friends, prepare for their wedding, and adjust to moving in together.

Dina had been married before to a man who died, and this is Scott’s first real relationship.  This imbalance starts to become evident when she starts expecting more intimacy from him than he is comfortable giving, with him needing prompts before doing things like holding her hand or cuddling in bed.  When she gives him a copy of the Joy of Sex as a gift following a trip to the ocean, what follows is an incredibly candid conversation about masturbation and sex.  Dina has “been around,” as she puts it to him, and Scott seems nervous about his first time.

Their relationship is frequently charming to watch, and they have a completely honest way of speaking to each other, but the film also doesn’t shy away from confronting the darker elements of Dina’s past and the trauma she has endured.  Not only did her first husband pass away, but then she ended up in another relationship that ended in horrible abuse, leaving her with several visible scars on her back from being stabbed multiple times.  Because of this, she considers herself a survivor, and the strength she has to carry on is indeed inspiring.

The film unfolds more like a narrative romantic drama than a traditional documentary, even having a couple of nicely done musical montages that cut back and forth to show us the differences between Dina and Scott going about their own lives, and also how they converge and come together.  This fly on the wall approach works precisely because of how engaging both subjects are to watch.

Similar to other documentaries about adults on the spectrum navigating relationships, including the two remarkable films The Special Need and Transfixed, Dina is a touching portrait of unique individuals who, despite their differences, still have the same universal want for companionship and the right to have relationships like everybody else.  Dina and Scott’s love story will stick with you.

Dina is now playing in limited release at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

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