Dina (2017)

“That’s what friends are for; to help each other.”

Dina Buno has never met a stranger. She chats with whomever happens to be sitting next to her on the bus, tries to talk while her dentist is working inside her mouth, holds the hand of the dental assistant when the drill comes out. Years after her last husband died from cancer, she’s about to get remarried to Scott Levin, a man who walks beside her on the autism spectrum. Dina easily could have gone awry and exploited this couple as a real life The Other Sisterbut it maintains its distance (I can’t recall a single close-up shot) and allows these two individuals two live how they like. The result touches on every human emotion.

You start to wonder what draws these people to one another. Dina doesn’t work because of a deadly attack she survived (explained to us in a captivating single static shot). She obsesses over reality television and enjoys conversation a bit too much. Scott, a Wal-Mart employee and greeter, is naturally more introverted, a music aficionado and big sports fan. They don’t seem to have all that much in common. Opposites do attract though, or so they say. Maybe their unifying common interest is simply an interest in each other, and that’s a fine foundation for any relationship to build upon. They care about their partner, sometimes hardly aware that the camera is even there, exuding a foolish and intimate love. It’s infectious and very well should serve as a teaching point to any couple: be in the moment.

Documentary portraits of people require a great deal of trust between auteur and subject. It’s present every step of the way from directors Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini, with some shots so picture perfect I’d have sworn I was watching a narrative feature. For example, Dina brings up the different ways women like to have their feet rubbed while she slides her foot across the ottoman. Scott stares ahead giving multiple “uh-huhs.” Sharp cut to Scott kneeling on the floor massaging Dina’s soles. Moments like this are why Dina won Sundance’s coveted Grand Jury Prize. The film might build to a big life event, yet its humanity lives in all of those little moments in between. Sparks of laughter, anxious sexuality, reassured insecurities, looking ahead towards a brighter future without forgetting the dark past. To be human is to be vulnerable; every second of Dina sustains this notion.

Dina may center on two autistic people hosting a whole laundry list of issues – as do we all – but more than anything else, it’s about finding the courage to accept the affection of another human being, and should they be the right match, acknowledging their woos with a reciprocating gentle stroke of the hand. Life can’t be categorized or confined to a single genre, yet it can be lived, and lived well should you rightly choose to do so. Dina exemplifies this purpose with laugh out loud humor, an abundance of heart, and a refined dramatic lens. It has the maturity to recognize that true love may be a myth, a mere circumstantial product of the right place and the right time. Then again, there’s only one way to find out.

“Life is way too short.”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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