There’s something about French films that make people call them “artsy”—they’re in a class of their own. ‘French’ lends an allure of mystery to anything that’s been labelled as such, making us wonder exactly what ingredients go into French films that set them apart from other genres of cinema.

French films have strengthened their presence on our shores with the recent Societe Generale Private Banking 2nd Rendezvous with French Cinema, which was essentially a three-day film festival in Singapore. French actresses and directors Sophie Marceau, Fleur-Lise Heuet, Anne Le Ny and Anne Fassio were some popular figures that graced the red carpet event.

From children’s animations to the Oscar-nominated Amour, the film fest immersed locals in the French cinema experience. Many may think that French films are only for the ‘atas crowd, and any degree of truth in that sentiment probably stems from the fact that these films are quintessentially, well, French.

“French movies are very immersed in European architecture and literature,” Heuet, the lead actress of Fassio’s Ma bonne étoile (My Lucky Star), explains. “When people outside of France take in all this rich history and culture, such movies can be perceived as too complicated.”

University student Ryan Thng, who caught Le jour de les corneilles (The Day of the Crows), however, believes that French films actually have simple storylines—and that’s where he reckons their charm lies. “French films are more stripped down and lovely. They’re so tightly written, and every single scene is important.”

“I find that the stories in French cinema are more personal,” adds Jean-Christophe Dessaint, the director of Le jour de les corneilles. “They are usually written by the director, so he or she has more freedom and greater control over the story. Whereas in Hollywood, there are more people deciding the production and casting.”

If the charm of French cinema lies in the intimacy with which they are produced, then it is not quite as exclusive as we think. Film enthusiast Jean-François Danis, 47, believes that Singaporean films and French films share a similar style.

A fan of many local productions like Eric Khoo’s Be With Me and Royston Tan’s 881, he believes that the directing styles of Singaporean filmmakers are close to that of European directors, especially in how they choose to portray human beings. “They make films that talk about humanity. They don’t try to impress with special effects. So in many ways, Singaporean cinema is much closer to French cinema than American cinema.”

“Asian films are quite well-represented in France, and I dare say they are even more complicated than ours in terms of relationships and social context,” adds Fassio, director of Ma bonne étoile.

Says Jeannie Tan, 25, a researcher who caught Ma bonne étoile during the film fest, “After watching so many blockbusters, it (Ma bonne étoile) was a refreshing change. It’s more real, more ‘human’, and it managed to capture all the different emotions perfectly.”

“French films are not formulaic; they don’t look like each other,” explains Mr Danis. “We try to be more personal and unique. We like dialogues because it’s important for people to talk to each other.” 

And the main themes of French films—are they love, family, and relationships? 

Says Heuet, with a smile, “Life.”