System Crasher

System Crasher (Systemsprenger) (2019)

System Crasher  (Systemsprenger) first published by

Bernadette Klaaß (Helena Zengel) – a tomboyish nine-year-old who prefers to go by the name ‘Benni’ – is a problem.

We first see her, bruised snd battered, being examined by Dr Schönemann (Melanie Straub). Naturally, the sight of a half-naked little girl with contusions sends off all kinds of alarm signals – but when the doctor says that she is planning to up the dosage of Benni’s meds to “help you stay in control when you get angry”, it becomes clear that Benni is her own worst enemy. Asked what she wants to be when she grows up, Benni smiles and says, “an educator” – and writer/director Nora Fingscheidt’s film cuts to Benni screaming and fighting viciously in the playground of the latest group home from which she is about to be expelled. 

“Don’t worry, it’s shatterproof”, comments one adult supervisor to another as the enraged Benni, left outside the building to calm down, hurls large toys at the glass door – which indeed does shatter, as the film’s title appears over it in pink. Benni is the System Crasher – a hyper-aggressive bundle of recalcitrant impulses, spitting contempt and antisocial violence, suspended from one institution after another and burning all her bridges. She is always running – not just away from whichever establishment is trying to rein her in, but also towards a grim future of closed facilities and juvenile detention. Driven by her love for, and sense of rejection from, her unreliable mother Bianca (Lisa Hagmeister), and still deeply traumatised by childhood abuse, Benni is bright, at times endearing and clearly desperate to be loved – but she is also a genuine danger to herself and those around her (especially other children).

Fingscheidt’s film mostly follows Benni on her wave of (self-)destructive behaviour, but also stops to observe a small collective of professionals committed, against all odds, to overseeing Benni’s best interests – something of which she is herself incapable. There is Dr Schönemann, the kindly social worker Frau Balané (Gabriela Maria Schmeide), a teacher – and then there is Michael ‘Micha’ Heller (Albrecht Schuch), a careworker normally working with older delinquents, but now newly assigned to escort Benni to school. Micha has himself learnt to control his own youthful anger, and has settled into family life and a career as something like the ‘educator’ that Benni would herself like to become – and so he represents a model for a better future that Benni might eventually enjoy. 

The delicate rapport and mutual respect, even affection, that build between Benni and Micha raise our hope for a ‘Hollywood’ ending in which Micha and his wife Elli (Maryam Zaree) will adopt the young girl into their loving home. Yet System Crasher is no Hollywood film – and Micha is all too aware that any closeness he develops to his ward is an unconscionable breach of professionalism, and not good for anyone. Micha is, after all, a part of the very system that Benni is constantly crashing – and while the film certainly derives real verve from Benni’s punkish energy (brilliantly conveyed by Zengel), it depicts this girl’s racing downward spiral as a problem with no easy solutions. For as System Crasher plays the prepubescent Benni’s out-of-control ebullience off against the more mature Micha’s self-restraint, we are left to wonder what it will take for the foul-mouthed (anti)heroine to make this transition – and what (else) she might have to lose along the way.

Summary: Nora Fingscheidt’s film simultaneously celebrates and despairs its pre-pubescent heroine’s (self-)destructive path of rebellion

© Anton Bitel