Dina review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
There’s something simple and refreshing about the approach to autism within Dina. The more film-worthy subjects on the mental condition usually tend to either focus on kids having problems adjusting and older adults who are given guidance. Many films depict autistic people in need of some help with either their daily living or an inspiration to carry on and succeed. Dina focuses on the lesser-seen picture of autism; the older kind. Dina is not some deeply hindered woman who can’t form words or requires constant care. She’s also not a brilliant prodigy at anything in particular. She has the look and feels of an ordinary small-town woman getting ready for her wedding. And there’s just something so inspiring about that simplicity.
Throughout this quiet look at small-town life, we get to see a couple of Dina and Scott, both with a form of autism, come together for their wedding. Dina is a vocal and energetic woman about town, chatting it up with everyone at the hair salon and eager to be married. Scott is far quieter and contemplative but still open enough with his affections. While the camera could be labeled as not seeing the full picture, Dina and Scott seem content around each other. They speak frankly and openly about everything, where a trip to the beach can lead to them earnestly talking about sex. While Dina gets giddy for a bachelorette party, Scott plans to study up on song and dance to be the hit of the wedding ceremony.
Life isn’t all roses for the two. They have their own spats that are emotionally draining for both if not all that big to an outsider in how they go the distance at times. Other times, their coziness is more about proximity. We see them at their most relaxed when they’re just watching TV together without saying much. There is a bigger secret that Dina is concealing and its a traumatic experience so tough to talk about she never brings it up. We see glimpses of the past on her body but rarely is it discussed even in Dina’s own manner of speaking directly. It’s not until the third act that we let an emergency call do all the talking of a relationship that went the wrong way and left a deep scar on Dina’s soul.
So much of the film has this quaint mundanity to it all. Dina’s apartment is a very small place, just barely big enough for a bachelorette party to transpire. Their wedding photos are taken in front of a diner window, the patrons clearly visible from above as the pictures are taken. The wedding reception is held in a community room that has a cozy appeal in its vanilla-like setting. Compare all of this to Dina and Scott occupying a honeymoon sweet with a whirlpool that resembles a giant cocktail glass. They awkwardly enjoy it but the truth is they don’t need a whole lot to be happy, made evident by a somewhat simple end to their event as they enter into the next stage of their relationship.
As someone with autism, this documentary has a sincerity that was emotionally tugging for what little is said in the relationship of Dina and Scott. There are no talking heads trying to describe Dina to the audience, nor is there a scene where Dina speaks directly to the camera to try and explain herself in some reality show format. We merely observe her in an event where not a lot happens. And that’s the point as the documentary normalizes autism rather than fully hide behind explanations that may fall short. Everything is said by merely observing, making Dina perhaps the most humanizing film on the subject of autism.