The narrative of documentaries has always been to produce something as close as possible to real life; a filmmaker will be limited by the amount of footage they can show and the essence of a person or their story they can convey in the footage captured. In Dina, the directors have stumbled into an honest open tale of love in small-town America, condensing hundreds of hours of footage to tell the simple story of a woman entering her second marriage. Winning the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance film festival this year, it’s a beautiful and raw film of very ordinary lives.
Dina is set for a rollercoaster of milestones. Engaged to marry Scott, a Walmart-greeter, she’s nervous and excited to move in together, set off on their honeymoon, all while she shakes off the traumas of past relationships. Both Dina and Scott are on the Asperger spectrum and thankfully the film doesn’t condescend to either of them, rather it allows the couple to have open conversations about their relationships without any filter. Dina herself is an exceptionally warm person, which clashes often against Scott’s more reserved persona. Scott finds it difficult to reciprocate his feelings with Dina and leads to many conversations between them about love and how to show, explore and appreciate it.
Set in suburban Philadelphia, the film opens in Dina’s house as she and her friends make space for Scott to move in after nearly a decade of living alone. The camera rests on Dina from a distance to be as subjective as possible, the effect tricks the audience into the illusion that this is an independent drama rather than a documentary. Thankfully it never feels scripted or rehearsed even in more private conversations; in one scene Dina opens discusses her sex life with Scott who quietly nods, occasionally replying “uh-huh”.
The film delves into Dina’s past relationships, their ups and downs, from the death of her first husband to being viciously stabbed by an ex. It’s a lot of heartache for one lifetime, “I’ve spent my whole life being rejected” says Dina in a particularly emotional scene where she’s waiting for Scott to return some affection that she’s been so patient for. Dina as a film and a person reminds us that being exposed and laid bare is uncomfortable and may be without reward but it is necessary for love to be returned in all its’ glory.
Dina has a limited release in theatres, which is a shame as it’s such a beautiful film but hopefully will make its way onto wider release. Until then, Dina shows us that for emotional depth and honesty sometimes the simplest stories are the best.
Words by Sunny Ramgolam