Berlinale 2019: 'System Crasher' is a One-Note Adventure Into Crazy
by Alex Billington
February 9, 2019
There's only so much screaming one can deal with before they go crazy, too. And this film seriously comes close to crossing that line. System Crasher, also known as Systemsprenger, is a very intense German drama about a young girl with serious anger issues who often blows up and gets really, really crazy. It's a meaningful, well-made feature film that attempts to examine the challenges of working with a child known as a "system crasher" but unfortunately it's a one-note story that never turns the page. There's no character arc or story development or anything beyond the basics, beyond the initial introduction and then two hours of screaming and yelling and temper tantrums. There are numerous attempts at making some progress, but nothing works. And after a while it gets a bit tiring and frustrating - which is the point of it the film, I guess.
Written and directed by Argentinian-German filmmaker Nora Fingscheidt, System Crasher introduces us to a young girl named Benni, played by Helena Zengel. She is an angry, wild child who just wants to live with her mother. But her mother can't handle her, because she gets set off too easily. It doesn't take much to make her go crazy and get super angry, throwing fits and yelling at everyone around her. Even the people she likes are suddenly targets. The film takes us on a number of journeys, attempting to find a safe place for her at foster care facilities, and psychiatric units, along with visits to her mother, with care specialists, and other people who come into her life in an attempt to figure out how to calm her down. But not much works, sadly. And most of the film shows us how they try so hard to help her and yet she just doesn't improve at all.
The term "systemsprenger" is a German word used to describe kids "who break every single rule; children who refuse to accept any kind of structure and who gradually fall through the cracks in Germany’s child and welfare services." The film seems to be commenting on how insanely challenging it is to provide real support for them, as these crazy kids don't fit in anywhere - no safe house will accept them, most foster homes reject them. And the healthcare system in Germany lacks the necessary structure and support. There's not much hope for them. It just takes way too much time to drive this point home, in the midst of an endless amount of screaming. As much as it's important to know they can't improve, it's a bit frustrating to spend two hours watching them try over & over. It needs a bit more hope, a step or two towards progress. Not endless failure.
Despite this intensity, the film does have some clever, creative touches to it but it's so repetitive and just so frickin' crazy and that's all there is. It's easy to appreciate the performances, especially from Helena Zengel as Benni, and Albrecht Schuch as the school escort she's assigned who tries his best to help her in a more personal way. The creative touches come from simple filmmaking quirks that make the story feel more than just a basic story presented on screen - and I like how much of a difference these flourishes make. But it still doesn't overcome its repetitiveness and craziness. At some point you need to turn the page. The unfortunate solution to everything is to just send her away, and despite that probably reflecting the solution in reality, as a film they could've tried to give viewers something more to believe in than that. It's just too much craziness.
Alex's Berlinale 2019 Rating: 6.5 out of 10
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