Award-winning 'Dina,' shot in Philly, captures couple on the spectrum in love

The locally shot Dina won a grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival for its affectionate and uncommonly intimate portrait of two people on the autism spectrum in a romantic relationship.

The movie follows the just-engaged Dina Buno and Scott Levin in the months leading up to their wedding — moving in together (in Glenside), planning the event, negotiating the potential conflicts that arise for any couple during cohabitation.

One of the movie’s goals is to grant neurodiverse subjects their full measure of humanity, and to that end,  Dina is candid on the subject of sex, where the movie also finds its loose narrative arc. Dina (previously married and widowed) wants a physical relationship with Scott, who is (by his own admission) inexperienced in these matters, and uncomfortable with the conjugal aspects of the courtship. The movie doesn’t spend much time assessing the nature of Dina and Scott’s particular conditions, but it seems likely that Scott’s issues with physical contact stem from his condition.

Both Scott and Dina are high-functioning, and Scott obviously has a heart of gold — he bravely (and winningly) seeks the advice and counseling of friends and parents in researching the situation. And he’s open to discussing it with Dina — on a trip to the Jersey Shore, she presents him with a copy of The Joy of Sex, offering it as an icebreaker.

This is funny, but some part of me felt queasy about laughing. The moment follows a rather fraught bus trip that shows Scott is in obvious distress — he likes the comfort of a familiar routine, and we see that riding a strange bus going to a strange place (he has never seen the ocean) upsets him.

Given that, how does he feel about having a camera pointed at him while he talks about his sex life? Might the presence of the camera in his bedroom — or later, his honeymoon suite — be an impediment to the kind of intimacy Dina seeks?

Dina is presented without narration, without much context.  For me, the subjects’ neurodiversity raised concerns of access and consent. The circumstances of the filming answer some of them — co-director Dan Sickles is a Philadelphia-area native, and a lifelong friend of Dina. There is a bond of trust there, and both she and Scott have enthusiastically participated in publicizing the movie.

Still, I’d like to have seen a prologue assuring the audience that the movie’s subjects are fully on board. Dina contains subtle internal cues that suggest this is the case — Dina is a big fan, for instance, of the Keeping Up With the Kardashians “reality” TV show, a subtle indication that she’s hip to what’s going on.

There is a big difference, though, between the engineered, branded, insincere, for-profit showbiz bull of the Kardashians and the authentic intimacy we see here.

Which, reservations aside, yields some lovely moments. Scott may not be the touchy-feely type, but he likes music and singing.

When he serenades Dina with Freddy Fender’s “Before the Next Teardrop Falls,” the movie becomes a love story.

MOVIES

Dina

  • Directed by Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini. With Dina Buno and Scott Levin. Distributed by the Orchard.
  • Running time: 1 hour, 43 mins.
  • Parents guide: Not rated (sexual situations).
  • Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse, Ambler Theater, AMC Voorhees.