The term system crasher is used to describe a person who falls between the cracks of society, often at a young age. They’re troubled, violent and hard to place anywhere. Our protagonist Benni (Helena Zengel) is such a nine-year-old in Nora Fingscheidt’s impressive film.
System Crasher (Systemsprenger) is without a doubt a challenging watch, one that tests your ability to project empathy towards someone who in real life would definitely spurn it. The film follows Benni as she hops from family to family, facility to facility and is always deemed too challenging, too violent, too much of everything. And sometimes Benni is all of this, prone to violent outbursts and rejecting all the help the adults are desperately trying to offer. They’re approaching a dead end with the child, who is desperate to be united with her mother, but who is unable to handle her daughter.
It is also a wildly sympathetic film, one that asks us to consider the young girls’s side of the story. We follow her through every situation, every argument, every time she tries to physically hurt someone. The film doesn’t hide any of Benni’s violent tendencies nor does it ask us to condone them, but to understand that this isn’t a choice. She can’t help herself; she can’t control those urges.
Helena Zengel is simply magnetic as Benni. It’s a ferocious performance, played without reservations. The character is a fascinating combination of feral beast and a wounded animal, hurting but also trying to hurt others to make her own pain subside. The film revolves completely around her and relies almost solely on Zengel’s performance, which is a smart move because she is never anything less than compelling and engaging.
Equally impressive is Albrecht Schuch as Mischa, Benni’s school escort and seemingly the only adult who can match her and handle her outbursts. Benni and Mischa develop a tender connection and it’s heart-warming to see the troubled girl form a meaningful friendship with someone in a world that often seems to be so against her.
The more tragic storyline is Benni’s yearning to live with her mother, Bianca (Lisa Hagmeister). It’s a problem as there are two younger children and an abusive boyfriend which is already an explosive situation, one that probably doesn’t need another catalyst. Bianca is without doubt trying her best in a difficult situation but constantly disappoints her eldest daughter thus fuelling her rage.
Director Nora Fingscheidt balances all the different elements of her film with remarkable ease and talent. While the film never aims to point a blaming finger or offer any solutions to Benni’s situation it always roots for her, to find the love and care she so desperately needs and wants. System Crasher does succumb to its own weight every now and then and becomes a little too idealistic. Scenes set in the woods where Mischa drags Benni to are a little too convenient and it’s hard to believe that anyone would allow this in the real world. The ending doesn’t quite come together either, unable to solve Benni’s predicament in a satisfying way.
But during these difficult times, there is something incredibly comforting about a film that is so set on rooting for a character that would otherwise almost exclusively be framed as a villain to someone else’s story. Benni is spirited, energetic and intelligent and Fingscheidt brings showcases the wonderful traits alongside the more problematic qualities, forming a fully fleshed girl and not just a system crasher.
System Crasher arrives on Curzon Home Cinema from March 27.
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