At 49, the title subject of Antonio Santini and Daniel Sickles’s obliquely intimate and quietly devastating documentary “Dina,” has not had an easy life.
She is on the autism spectrum, with an engaging curiosity that verges on obsessiveness, a keen intelligence that can turn into obsessive self-criticism, and an effusive friendliness that sometimes oversteps boundaries. She lives on disability (in one scene she shows difficulty with simple mathematics) alone in an apartment over a vacant storefront in suburban Philadelphia.
But past traumas overshadow her present circumstances. In snatches of conversation, we learn of a former deceased husband, an “accident” in which Dina was gravely hurt. These mysteries lurk in the background as the film elliptically relates her present good fortune – her engagement and upcoming marriage to Scott, an unflaggingly good-natured young man with Asperger syndrome who works as a Walmart greeter.
They seem utterly in love, but when Scott moves into Dina’s apartment, difficulties arise. Dina is used to living alone. Scott hasn’t lived anywhere except with his parents. Dina, once married and with prior boyfriends, has a healthy libido. But Scott, as Dina tearfully tells confidants while playing miniature golf, has a childish concept of sex.
She gives him “The Joy of Sex” as a gift and he nervously comments, “Wow; 12 million copies sold.” He’s not interested in physical love, or he’s afraid to try it, or — the possibility that torments Dina most — he doesn’t really like her and is more interested in looking up rock music trivia on his smartphone. But he says he’s “working on it.”
Meanwhile, the wedding preparations continue unabated. Santini and Sickles (“Mala Mala”) show a gift for wry parallel editing, as they intercut Scott trying on a rented tuxedo while Dina searches in a sex shop for alluring lingerie. For his bachelor party, Scott and his two pals discuss their anxiety about intercourse on the way to a bowling alley; for her night out, Dina whoops it up as a male stripper performs for her and her fellow bachelorettes.
After the wedding, which takes place in a restaurant in a mall, the couple head to the Poconos for their honeymoon. In one poignant scene, an extreme long shot of the pair silhouetted on a hillside, another couple walks by, hand-in-hand. “See how they do that?” Dina says. “So natural.”
But though he might be uncertain about sex, or even kissing and cuddling, Scott is an incurable romantic. And steadfastly loyal and kind. The value of that is made clear when the filmmakers disclose the full tragedy and horror of what Dina has gone through, and when he sings to her “Before the Next Teardrop Falls.”
Directed by Antonio Santini and Daniel Sickles. At Kendall Square. 102 minutes. Unrated (intimate and confused discussions about sex).Peter Keough can be reached at email@example.com.