By Woojung Kim, Contributing Writer
Dina Buno is a 49-year-old woman who has an unwavering determination to overcome her autism. She also carries a frightful trauma from her past husband who passed away from cancer and from her ex-boyfriend, whom she calls a “psycho” for having stabbed her with a knife. However, even though she retains these painful memories, her desire for an intimate relationship has never faltered. She soon kindles a romance with Scott Levin, an employee at Walmart with Asperger Syndrome.
The winner of the U.S. documentary grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival, “Dina” is a film by Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles, who portray the vulnerable romance between Dina Buno and Scott Levin in an exceptionally tender manner.
The film commences when Levin moves into Buno’s house weeks before their marriage. As the couple lives together, their differences become starkly apparent. Buno is an independent woman who has been living alone for over 20 years. She has a high level of self-esteem and is always engrossed in her pursuit of happiness. On the other hand, having lived with his supportive parents throughout his life, Levin has insecurities being apart from them. Their main conflict is exhibited when the couple goes on a trip to the New Jersey shore. Already overwhelmed by his first trip to the ocean, Levin expresses uneasiness when Buno gives the book “Joy of Sex” as a gift. Their ways of showing affection is disparate. Buno thinks of sex as a vital component of love, while Levin is comfortable with only asserting his love than demonstrating it physically. This conflict of theirs leads Buno to break down, thinking that Levin does not love her. But Levin, quick in reassuring her of his love, is able to calm her.
The documentary then presents the couple each preparing for their marriage. At this point, the care given to the couple by the production staff becomes evident, since Buno and Levin’s lives are not entirely consumed by surveillance. The two do not act awkwardly in front of the camera and are not timid about presenting themselves in bed. The cinematography is restrictive because the camera is fixed on a tripod for most scenes. It is certainly a departure from prominent documentaries, which include shaky shots with handheld cameras, displaying the subject as candidly as possible.
However, the film can get monotonous at times, especially since the routine of Buno and Levin encountering conflict and resolving it is oft-repeated. The color of “Dina” is illustrated with lassitude and at first, makes it appear like a feature film, which can confuse the viewer.
“Dina” ends on a bright note: Buno and Levin marry and go on their honeymoon. They are able to live normal lives and serenely enjoy each other’s presence.
“Dina” opened in theaters on Friday, Oct. 6.