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It didn’t change his mind. To this day, Mr. Stillman continues to insist that all of his characters must be believable people, first and foremost — even in a frequently goofy comedy like “Damsels in Distress.”

Miss Gerwig says the director “encouraged me and the other [female] actors to never play anything for comedy or judgment. Everything we were doing was sincere.”

It’s not just sincere. It’s downright nice — without being boring — in a way that’s unusual on the big screen.

“There’s a quality of forgiveness” in all of Mr. Stillman’s films, Miss Gerwig says. There may be conflict, “but it evolves into something civil.”

Which may be why he’s so wary of discussing politics, a business that’s rarely sincere, civil or nice — quite unlike Mr. Stillman.