In the course of watching Dina (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Oct. 20), I was immediately impressed with the film’s naturalistic style. The actors appeared to be improvising their dialogue! The verité-style camera work made it appear to be as much documentary as romantic comedy!
The joke, of course, was on me: Dina really is a documentary, which I’d have known if I’d read its promotional material instead of just looking at the film’s poster. So to all the publicists I’ve worked with over the past few years: I’m sorry. In future, I’ll actually make an effort to read the material you send me.
As for Dina, she’s a 48-year-old divorced woman about to marry Scott, a greeter at a Philadelphia-area Walmart who proposed to her at the local Red Robin. Theirs, however, is no garden-variety relationship: Dina is autistic and Scott has Aspergers, presenting the couple with a unique set of challenges to overcome in their new life together.
Directors Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles were granted intimate access to Dina and Scott’s lives, but their film doesn’t feel exploitative. Even as the newlyweds try to negotiate their way through married life – she craves physical affection, Scott is uncomfortable with it – Santini and Sickles keep a respectful and silent distance.
Among other awards, Dina won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It’s an excellent piece of observational cinema that would probably impress Frederick Wiseman, the style’s éminence grise (though he’d probably prefer the film to be twice as long).
It’s an awful cliché, but when I say you’ve never seen another film quite like Window to America (screening at Pacific Film Archive at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 21 as part of the series “A Golden Age of Chinese Cinema, 1947-1952”) I’m telling you the absolute truth. Unless, of course, you somehow saw the film on its first run 65 years ago.
Here’s PFA’s tagline for the film (see, I really am paying attention!): “A New York City businessman hopes to market a suicidal window washer’s grief to the highest bidder in this acidic Korean War-era satire on American capitalism, played entirely by Chinese actors in whiteface.”
As far as I could tell from the un-subtitled screener I watched (don’t worry, I have it on excellent authority that Berkeley grad students are busily penning English-language subs for PFA’s print), this description is entirely accurate. It’s also somewhat inadequate, and can’t fully convey the surreal craziness of Window to America.
Shot almost entirely on a single set at the height of winter (you can see the actors’ breath throughout), the film offers viewers a cross-section of American society as seen through Chinese eyes. There’s a rich industrialist and his overweight secretary, some dedicated workingmen (including one portrayed by a Chinese actor in blackface), a simpering salesman (echoes of Clifton Webb), a stern Victorian-era mother, and an overly enthusiastic priest.
Though the finer points of the film’s plot were impossible for me to discern, it’s conclusion was not: workers of the world, unite! Clocking in at brief 67 minutes, Window to America plays like a Preston Sturges comedy gone off the rails – which is no bad thing at all.