One of 2019’s most impressive films, this is full-throttle filmmaking with both substance and style, backed by an incredible performance by 11-year old Helena Zengel.
Dir. Nora Fingscheidt
2019 | Germany | Drama | 118 mins | 1.85:1 | German
Not rated (likely to be NC16 for coarse language and some disturbing scenes)
Cast: Helena Zengel, Albrecht Schuch, Gabriela Maria Schmeide
Plot: On her wild quest for love, 9-year-old Benni’s untamed energy drives everyone around her to despair.
Awards: Won Silver Bear – Alfred Bauer Prize (Berlin)
International Sales: Beta Film
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed on screener)
This is not just a truly remarkable feature directing debut for Nora Fingscheidt, but one of the year’s most impressive films. A winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival, System Crasher is full-throttle filmmaking at its best, backed by an incredible performance by an 11-year old actress named Helena Zengel, who I’m sure will go on to do more astonishing work.
I have never felt this invigorated and inspired by a film’s level of craft, storytelling and acting since Xavier Dolan’s Mommy (2014), which I mention here because it is the closest System Crasher is to its vibe and essence, even if they share different narratives and settings.
I find System Crasher fascinating on two levels. Firstly, it is a story of a girl, Benni (Zengel), who has severe issues controlling her anger and frustration, often resorting to screaming tantrums and bouts of violence toward herself and others. Despite the efforts of a lady from child protection services, no one wants to take Benni in. Heck, even Benni’s own mother is afraid of her.
However, when Micha, an anger management trainer, is hired as Benni’s school escort, things seem to strike a different chord between them. On this human drama level, of a child ‘system-crashing’ her society, we get a film of uncommon power and intensity.
It is also stylishly-directed with Fingscheidt’s astute use of the camera (with variations of shaky cam, close-ups and tracking shots) capturing the rocky contours of a fiery young mind with aplomb. Sudden explosions of rhythmic music also add psychological depth to this wild child.
On another level, as I’m neck-deep in my postgraduate studies on education and learning, System Crasher is an exciting, albeit dramatised, case study of a so-called ‘special needs’ child, who is failed by society’s policies and institutions.
I think this film is perfect for discourse on the needs of Benni, her educative potential and the importance of socio-emotional support. How can we as educators even begin to custom-design a ‘curriculum’ for her? What kind of learning and assessment pedagogies are available for such a unique child? Will we ever know when Benni is ready for society? And how ready will she be?
No matter how dramatised, Benni is certainly not a figment of the imagination. There are many Bennis in the world, and these questions challenge educators on a daily basis. And this is why System Crasher is such a riveting (and potentially frightening) watch—that there might just be no solution at all.