There are quite a few words that can be used to describe the German debut feature of Nora Fingschiedt, System Crasher. Harrowing. Brave. Intense. Uncomfortable. Moving. Those of just some of what comes to mind upon viewing this consistently engaging drama that pulls no punches with its memorable lead character’s actions. 
Nine-year old Benni  (Helena Zengel) is the definition of a problem child. She has behavioural issues which involve foul-mouthed outbursts and violent assaults and as a result, has been separated from family and placed in care facilities. Her unpredictable behaviour has also seen her expelled persistently from schools, much to the exasperation of those around her. One notable feature is her uncontrollable violent behaviour towards anyone who may accidentally touch her face, the result of trauma caused by implied past abuse. 
With the child protection laws preventing her from a permanent placement because she is under twelve, the care facility are forced to put up with her whilst they explore what realistic options are available. Underneath all this, Benni is seen as a girl who in spite of her problems seeks stability with those in her life, something the film examines as circumstances make such a wish virtually impossible to come true. 
From the opening minutes, the film makes no secret of showing how unique this character is going to be. Her fearless attitude towards the adults in charge of her is demonstrated as she hurls objects at windows and escapes from them. For a short time, she takes advantage of her freedom with a rebellious series of activities, mocking a wheelchair user, robbing a little girl and entering a fashion shop where she pushes a toddler as a distraction to steal a bag. Remember, this is a nine-year old and its only the first five minutes and already there is compulsiveness with viewing the film, even as we do so frequently with a feeling of unease and temptation to watch through our fingers. 
Zengel is unforgettable in an emotionally demanding role where seeing her act so violently makes observing her in a calm and happy manner calm difficult to get used to, knowing her short-fuse and inability to take discomforting news is bound to reappear. Whether she’s ferociously banging her head against a car window or making a point by urinating outside a fed-up care worker’s door, it seems that in all scenes she’s in, she can do no wrong. It’s not just about swearing and spitting with this performance; there is depth and a caring manner deep down shown. 
At the centre of her ambitions is the idea of being reunited with her mother, something made challenging because of the fear her mother has of her daughter, plus the knock-on effect it threatens to have on her siblings. The flaws of the mother are clear given her choice of boyfriends which supposedly has a profound effect on Benni, as demonstrated when she breaks free from the care facility to return home, enjoying being with her siblings only for all hell to break loose when the mother arrives with the boyfriend she clearly disapproves of. 
Most people seem to incur the wrath of Benni with a short number of notable exceptions, particularly kind-hearted care officer Mrs Bafane (Gabriela Maria Schmeide). The arrival of Micah (Albrecht Schuch) as her somewhat reluctant school escort initially seems doomed to fail when on their first day together, she assaults a pupil who dares to insult her reading. Overtime they mutually accept one another, even going as far as staying in a log cabin near a farm without electricity he often brings his teenage clients to, the trip bringing both positives and negatives whilst illustrating arc of the two characters, particularly Micah. 
The film is at its most engaging when it details the hard-hitting situations that befall not just Benni but others too in that when something appears to be going well, the carpet will be pulled and an uncomforting occurrence will take place. That is why the film works in that it keeps us on edge, unsure of what Benni’s behaviour as well as that of others will equate to when both collide. 
I was reminded of Xavier Dolan’s Mommy where like the problematic youth in that film, the lead character runs the risk of self-destruction as a result of uncontrollable behavioural activity. As with Mommy, it highlights the effects the lead’s irrational behaviour has on those around them who fight an often relentless losing battle. 
Though Zengel dominates the film, it sees some first-rate acting from Schmeide who perhaps delivers the film’s best acting in a particular sequence where the pressures and cruelties of the case reach breaking point and Benni being the one who becomes the shoulder to cry on. 
Though its final shot will leave the viewer scratching their head as it did mine, the two hours spent watching the story of this nine-year old troublesome individual is as rewarding as it is uncomforting, well-acted as it is an informative story of a dilemma that affects not all but enough to take notice. 
OUT OF FOUR STARS: ***

Published by thenorthwalescritic

Hello, film fans. There is room for one more critic with a difference. For anyone looking at what are the best films out there, whether to watch in cinema, streamed, DVD, TV, your choice where, I will write several film reviews each month. I will be writing these from several days to up to several weeks after their initial release because after all, just because the film comes out on a weekend, doesn't mean its only going to be seen that weekend. This will be so it won't be lost amongst the avalanche of reviews that come out on the same day. As well, there will be articles about the current climate of cinema, recommendations of some obscure movies and maybe the odd mention of some films not quite worthy of their reputation. My opinion, your decision to enter.

3 replies on “SYSTEM CRASHER”

  1. Here by way of Ten Seconds from Now over at The Film Authority. Nice too meet you and to find a good read about film–that I never heard of. Already on Google tracking down more!

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