By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, October 20, at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley.
The best documentary of the year so far, and also the most touching love story. Directors Santini and Sickles (Mala Mala) follow Dina Buno, a middle-aged autistic woman with a tragedy-filled past, as she prepares to get married for the second time. Her music-obsessed fiancee Scott also has autism, and although he lovingly dotes on Dina, he is unable to express his love physically, increasing tension in the relationship as the marriage approaches. Santini and Sickles shoot and structure the film more like an indie rom-com than a documentary, and while there is a slight touch of Errol Morris-ian anthropological quirk, there is nothing condescending or cruel about Dina. Instead we get a rich, funny, fully drawn portrait of complex people leading complex lives and dealing with complex emotions, starring characters who display a wide range of abilities and limitations (Dina is sexually mature but unable to hold a job; Scott works at Wal-Mart but recoils from physical intimacy; other friends drive cars and raise children). There is a rare mix of raw intimacy and artifice to Dina, with obvious camera set-ups and movie-like music cues but also amazing moments of tenderness, humor and candor.