“Guaranteed to capture your heart and rip it to shreds.”
This review contains mild spoilers for System Crasher.
Somewhere in the depths of Germany, nine-year-old Benni has been expelled from another group home. A small child with an explosive temper, she is bounced around the foster care system with little luck; no one wants her. But it’s okay, she doesn’t want to be with them either – all she wants is to be at home with her mum and her younger siblings, blissfully unaware that her mother fears Benni too. Her only hope comes from Micha, her school escort, who she forms an unlikely attachment to. But whether Micha can succeed where all else have failed is an entirely different question.
It’s not hard to see why System Crasher is Germany’s selection for the 92nd Academy Awards. It is a masterful work of storytelling from director Nora Fingscheidt, who has expertly directed her cast towards cinematic gold – particularly in the form of her leading lady, Helena Zengel.
Despite her young age, Zengel’s performance as Benni is filled with innocent maturity, as the layers of Benni’s traumatic life are stripped away slowly throughout the film’s run time. Zengel portrayal of Benni’s craving for love is something that is intricately complex in her grasp. Her ability to switch from playful to eruptive in a matter of a mere millisecond is mesmerising, holding a keen audience at her fingertips. Zengel commands the screen and demands the attention no matter Benni’s mood, leaving you constantly wary of every move she makes. It is an outstanding performance, one that is guaranteed to capture your heart and rip it to shreds.
Alongside Zengel, Albrecht Schuh plays Micha, Benni’s school escort and anger management expert. Together, their relationship is electric and the pair bounce against one another perfectly. Micha’s professional and personal anguish regarding Benni is beautifully portrayed, particularly when the pair are alone together. He is the father figure she never had. His professional stance is chipped away by Benni’s unique charms but he fears her; a devastating deduction for the audience and for Benni.
With a run time almost hitting the two-hour mark, System Crasher remains a captivating watch throughout. Like those who surround her, such as Micha and Mrs. Banafe (Gabriela Maria Schmede), we as the audience are drawn to Benni’s unique charms and the rare moments where she truly embraces her inner child. Her laugh is youthful and infectious, and her passions ignite a smile that could light up even the darkest of hours. Yet her innocence erupts with rage at the flick of a switch, leaving the audience in constant wonder as to whether someone will be able to help her find inner peace.
To have given System Crasher a traditional ending would not have done Benni’s story justice. As a child whose temperament can change in an instant, giving Benni a calm ending would not have been true to her nature, and would feel ill-earned to an audience so used to traditional closed endings. Yet as Benni runs through the airport away from her escort, she smiles. Perhaps there is hope for Benni after all, but not in the sense we may expect.
System Crasher leaves you fearing the worst and hoping for the best, sucking you into the orbit of a child lost in a system that doesn’t want her. It shares only enough for you to understand a fraction of her history, but you wonder how the pieces came together to make her this way. Combined with masterful performances and cinematography that places you at Benni’s constant beck and call, System Crasher is a visceral artwork in all aspects of its production, and a must watch at this year’s London Film Festival.