In her multi award-winning script, Nora Fingscheidt deals with the unromantic realities of finding foster children a home, creating a film that does not flinch from emotional or physical violence and the unsatisfactory solutions faced by children and their advocates. The Systemsprenger (System Crasher) of the title is Benni, an extraordinarily angry 10 year-old who is rejected by foster families and care homes for wilfully breaking every rule imposed.
In viewers’ first encounters with Benni she appears hard to love, but she has won an army of devoted adults who are fighting their charge’s violent instincts so that she can stay in a long-term home. The details of Benni’s past are never revealed – early childhood trauma is mentioned, as is the fact that her siblings are growing more and more like her – which makes her behaviour both understandable and baffling. Helena Zengel’s explosive performance captures the irrationality and overwhelming need for love and security that both redeems and damns the girl’s chances of success. She is not equipped to deal with her emotions and sense of loss; each outburst and setback is both inevitable and absolutely shattering to her social worker, school escort, and biological and foster mothers, all of whom are played without sentimentality.
While the plot lacks a conventional narrative resolution, which would be inappropriate to such a story, the conclusion attempts to bring some levity to Benni’s rebellions and her carers’ struggles. This, however, sours the labour and heartache that poured from the screen for the preceding 110 minutes.
Systemsprenger brings a commendable raw honesty to the troubled-child narrative but is almost unbearably frustrating. There is no doubt that these endless progress and relapse cycles capture the authenticity of supporting a traumatised child, but the credits bring only exhaustion, not catharsis; characters do not change, they just grow more tired.
CAST: Helena Zengel, Albrecht Schuch, Gabriela Maria Schmeide, Lisa Hagmeister, Melanie Straub
DIRECTOR: Nora Fingscheidt
WRITERS: Nora Fingscheidt
SYNOPSIS: A troubled child bounces between care homes and carers, her wish to return to her mother thwarted by her family’s inability to cope with her outbursts.