This year’s Berlinale Alfred Bauer Prize, for a film that “opens new perspectives on cinematic art”, was handed to Nora Fingscheidt’s System Crasher, an energetic and heart-wrenching tale of a 9-year-old girl named Benni (Helena Zengel) with severe behavioural problems. Too disruptive for her timid mother to handle, Benni bounces between foster carers, frequently causing chaos with outbursts of violent behaviour. But while Germany’s child welfare system seems fundamentally ill-equipped to deal with her, she finds a gruff guardian angel in Micha (Albrecht Schuch), a school escort with anger management issues of his own. The film is powered by the precocious Zengel, who brings charm, volatility and vulnerability to the lead role. But Fingscheidt also proves herself an assured storyteller. Rather than delve into the abuse that’s at the root of the problem, the writer-director instead discloses a single example of Benni’s past trauma in a manner that’s more horrifying for what it leaves to the imagination. The ending is a touch idealistic, but this is one of the most impactful German dramas in recent memory.
System Crasher (Systemsprenger) | Directed by Nora Fingscheidt (Germany 2019) with Helena Zengel, Albrecht Schuch. Starts Sep 19.
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