Ella Taylor

At my all-girls high school in London in the 1960s, colonial history was taught roughly as follows: "In 1947 India was granted independence from Great Britain. Civil strife continued between Hindus and Muslims in the new nations of India and Pakistan. And now, gehls, back to the Gardens of Tudor England."

For a short while, the French-made film Polina toes the line of traditional ballet narrative: a heroine's journey from exceptional promise through bundled hurdles, all the way to the triumph of the tutu. Then the movie takes a sharp left turn into a whole other fairy tale, a vibrantly watchable modern dance musical with bits of histrionic life thrown in and the chance to see Juliette Binoche strut some smooth moves of her own. The almighty tutu gets no more than a cameo as a soft bed for two young principal dancers whose hormones run wild.

The production notes for Patti Cake$ describe the movie's heroine as "plain and plus-sized." Plus-sized she may be, but neither Patti Dombrowski, an aspiring rapper in her 20s, nor Danielle Macdonald, the gifted non-rapper who plays her, is plain in any sense unless your definition of beauty begins and ends with Angelina Jolie.

Doffing a hasty prefatory cap to the crime stats and overflowing garbage of 1970s New York, Marc Webb's The Only Living Boy in New York soon withdraws to more glam pastures within. By which Webb and screenwriter Allan Loeb mean the amber-lit, opulent interiors where Manhattan's writers and artists gather to kvetch and preen. Not much writing or arting goes on here, but it is clear that these are creative types because they are extremely attractive and throw dinner parties where they gesture prettily with slender-stemmed wine glasses while drily quipping.

In 4 Days in France, a mesmerizing road movie by first-time director Jerome Reybaud, a young gay Parisian named Pierre (Pascal Cervo) packs his bags at dawn and leaves his sleeping lover, Paul (Arthur Igual). Departing the capital for a radically unstructured odyssey around a rural France enchantingly free of glam movie-Frenchiness, Pierre is guided by his Grindr app, with Paul in irritable pursuit behind him.

The British playwright Alan Bennett once remarked that people are more interesting when they are trying to be good than when they are being bad. That's certainly true of Menashe, a recently widowed Orthodox Jew struggling to raise his young son alone in a Hasidic enclave of Borough Park, Brooklyn. Though he can be a religious dogmatist when it comes to others, Menashe errs abundantly himself and complains routinely in Rodney Dangerfield mode, which sounds funnier in Yiddish.

In a canny revision of one of literature's top nasty women, William Oldroyd's Lady Macbeth brings us a Gothic tale of a shackled young wife turned angry bird, wreaking havoc on all who cross her and plenty who don't. Set in rural Victorian England, the movie, which filters Shakespeare's toxic bride through a 19th-century novella by Nikolai Leskov, minces neither word nor image laying out the forces that conspire to warp young Katherine Lester (Florence Pugh).

Among the photographs featured in the voluminous archive of photographer Elsa Dorfman, there's a joyful selfie — taken in 1988 before either the word or the practice became a thing — of Dorfman and her frequent subject, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Arms linked and holding hands, the two friends stand side by side, grinning broadly in unself-conscious camaraderie. Ginsberg is less known for his chipper outlook than for his sonorous meditations on lost America, and that goes double for filmmaker Errol Morris (The Fog of War, The Thin Blue Line).

While Clint Eastwood was busy playing a wounded Union soldier held at the pleasure of a bevy of Southern belles in Don Siegel's 1971 Civil War drama The Beguiled, the actor also found time to direct his first film, Play Misty for Me, in which he also starred as a disc jockey stalked by an unhinged female fan. Both films were visceral articulations of male paranoia about the sinister potential of repressed or oversexed women.

Every so often, brightly lit Hollywood comedies set in West Coast mansions will slip in five minutes of light-relief banter between a Latina housekeeper and her wealthy white liberal boss. Mild joshing ensues about the cluelessness or prejudice of the employer, perhaps with a good-natured roll of the maid's eyes thrown in. That done, everyone slips back into their assigned slots in the social pecking order. Point taken, but not really.

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