Movie, Reviews

“Once in a Lifetime” a Challenging Assignment



The true story Once in a Lifetime offers a sincere look into the lives of a classroom of teens who get to tackle one of the most challenging assignments of their life. The opening scene however, shows a discord between a Muslim student and a faculty member regarding the wearing of a hijab (Muslim head covering). While this incident never gets fleshed out, according to the press notes supplied, producer Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar includes the scene to show freedom of expression and the principle of secularism. The scene has the power to suggest a whole new plot for a different film on the subject yet does not take away from the production that follows.

The year for tenth grade students begins at Leon Blum High School in France and their teacher Anne Gueguen (Ariane Ascaride) greets her rowdy class with some fine techniques to get them settled. The film goes on from there introducing the main characters that include Malik (Ahmed Drame) a confident teen who easily fits the mold of most popular. Then there’s Melanie (Noemie Merlant) who’s smart and tough knowing what she wants in life, but making it rough on herself in getting it. Theo’s (Adrien Hurdubae) the class nerd who although takes a good bit of bullying, can hold his own when it comes to student smarts. The rest of the class works its way into the story as the plot thickens.

Ariane Ascaride as teacher Anne Gueguen  in ONCE IN A LIFETIME
Ariane Ascaride as teacher Anne Gueguen in ONCE IN A LIFETIME

After taking a day off for a funeral and leaving the class to a substitute, Gueguen finds her students in complete disarray upon her return. With the principal up in arms and discipline out of control, Gueguen proposes a class project. She wants them to work as a group on a chance to enter The National Resistance and Deportation contest. It’s a French national contest that every year gets 50,000 students vying for a chance at the top award. Reluctant, the class refuses to get involved as a group. That is until they find out their topic for the presentation, “Children and adolescents in Nazi concentration camps”. So begins a rigorous challenge that has the potential to bring the class together and even greatness for each if they win.

Ahmed Drame as Malik in ONCE IN A LIFETIME
Ahmed Drame as Malik in ONCE IN A LIFETIME

The film plays out well with the fine cast of young people who mostly are budding actors that writers Ahmed Drame and Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar rounded up to fit their script. As it turns out, the film is perfect for the teens who give energetic believable performances in depicting the real life story of this particular class. Making the characters their own, you can see their personalities impact the film.

One of the students shows a graphic drawing of the Hollocaust in ONCE IN A LIFETIME
One of the students shows a graphic drawing of the Hollocaust in ONCE IN A LIFETIME

Once in a Lifetime is a heartfelt movie that touches everyone in some way. As the students work on the project you can see how they are accomplishing an inner change in their beliefs while redirecting their obstinate attitude and turning into a positive discipline. Mention-Schaar enhances the importance of the film by bringing in 70-year-old Leon Zyguel. In 1941he was one of the teens victims directly affected by Shoah. Speaking to the class you can see how he appreciated what they were doing to remind people of the awful tragedy so it will never happen again.

Once in a Lifetime has been not been rated by the MPAA, but contains some rude language and some disturbing photos. The film spools out in the French language with easy to read English subtitles. Feel free to bring mature teens and preteens who can handle the content.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A very touching film with a lot of heart. (B)

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Ariane Ascaride, Ahmed Drame, Noemie Merlant, Genevieve Mnich, Stephane Bak, Wendy Nieto, Adrien Hurdubae, Raky Sall and Aimen Derriachi,
Directed by: Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar
Written by: Ahmed Drame and Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar
Genre: Drama, Foreign
MPAA Rating: Not Rated, contains language
Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min.
Release Date: October 21, 2016
Distributed by: Menemsha Films
Released in: French with English Subtitles

The film is being released throughout the country in stages.  Please check your local listings for a theater near you.

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Film Editor John Delia has been on all sides of the movie business from publications to film making. He has worked as a film critic with ACED Magazine for more than 12 years and earned a Bachelors degree in communications from the University of Florida. John is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association. Follow John on Twitter @staragent1 or send John a message at