Dina

Review by Abbey Bender @Abbey_Bender

Directed by

Antonio Santini Dan Sickles

Starring

Dina Buno Scott Levin

Anticipation.

A Sundance winner centring on an autistic couple. Will it be sensitive or exploitative?

Enjoyment.

Not enjoyable in the traditional sense, but compelling and elegantly shot.

In Retrospect.

A poignant snapshot of marginalised lives.

An autistic couple are the subject of this compellingly unconventional Sundance-winning doc.

This vérité portrait of a courting couple is, at times, a challenge to watch. Dina, a prizewinner at Sundance, follows Dina and Scott, a middle-aged autistic couple tentatively embarking on a relationship and ultimately getting married. It would be easy for Dina to be too twee, to push its protagonists into a cloying narrative of inspiration porn, but the film thankfully avoids that route, favouring a collage of moments from Dina’s life which avoids any added commentary.

Dina has had an exceedingly difficult existence – a traumatic past of violence and abuse is gradually revealed – and the film presents her as a strong-willed and sensitive woman. Many moments are intentionally mundane: the film opens with Dina at the dentist, and later we see her lounging around watching Sex and the City on DVD. On the surface, she could be any suburban woman.

Dina’s Pennsylvania hometown is shot in elegantly muted tones, with compositions of lonely looking all-American edifices that recall the paintings of Edward Hopper. The film can at times be uncomfortable: she and her still-virginal fiancé have awkward conversations about sex, and directors Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini have no qualms about allowing the viewer to be a fly on the wall. The film ends on a hopeful note, but there’s something distinctly disorienting about having such an intimate view of people who are too often marginalised.

The disorientation of Dina, the flinching at awkwardness and intimacy, mostly works, and in one telling moment, she enthusiastically discusses her love of reality TV. Dina has none of the brashness of this documentary mode, but she and Scott, with their borderline-painful vulnerabilities sitting right on the surface, are far more engaging to watch than the average reality star. We root for them to be happy together, while simultaneously feeling discomfort with how close the film places us to them.

Published 19 Oct 2017

Anticipation.

A Sundance winner centring on an autistic couple. Will it be sensitive or exploitative?

Enjoyment.

Not enjoyable in the traditional sense, but compelling and elegantly shot.

In Retrospect.

A poignant snapshot of marginalised lives.

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