Opening 5 Nov 2015
Based on a true story that takes place in the troubled Parisian suburb, Créteil, at the Léon Blum Lycée (High School), the director, Marie-Castile Mention-Schaar, in her film, Les Hèritiers (Once in a Lifetime) tells a powerful tale about integration and a chance to overcome differences through a collective working together.
The junior class at Léon Blum School is known as the most unruly, doomed to fail class (their literature teacher even states that it is not worth trying for they won’t pass the final exam anyway) but then their new history teacher, Anne Gueguen (Ariane Ascaride), arrives. She is faced with a demoralized, pugnacious class of various religious and cultural backgrounds – many of them Muslims – but she is determined not to give up on them and dreams up a project, which takes them on a trip back in history. They must participate in the annual National Contest of Resistance and Deportation. They will be required to create a project on the theme of “Children and Teenagers under the Nazi Regime” At first, they are skeptical and unwilling, but after Madame Gueguen takes them to the National Shoah Memorial, where the class learns about the Nazi genocide, they are moved and curious. Then later when Leon Zyguel speaks to the class about his tragic experiences in concentration camps, they begin to realize that this project has something to do with them as they become more aware of and appalled at the racism and antisemitism in their own minds and surroundings. Maybe it is possible to change and mold their own future if they work together.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this film is how it came into being. Ahmed Dramé, who played the likeable but initially dispirited Malik, was actually part of this rowdy class and wrote the screenplay when he was 20. He then contacted Madame Mention-Schaar, convinced her it was film material and together they improved and finalized the script. Many of the actors were from Créteil, and Leon Zyguel played himself (the most mesmerizing moment).The actors’ performances were convincing and heartfelt, especially that of Ascaride as Gueguen, resolute but with respect for her students (“I have more faith in you than you have in yourselves”) and that of Dramé as Malik – at first disillusioned and at the end determined and self-confident. The pulsating piano accompaniment was exceptionally supportive, especially after emotional scenes, only the piano music could be heard, giving the characters and audience a chance to reflect. Although some subthemes and characters are skimpily dealt with and a bit unfocused, the overall effect is gripping and inspiring. In this world today where there are so many powder kegs waiting to explode, a film like Lifetime is a must – it affirms that it is possible to overcome differences by working together instead of against each other. It compels us to “Just do it!” (Karen Schollemann)