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Berlinale 2019

This year’s Berlinale competition, the last one under Dieter Kosslick’s reign, didn’t look so promising on paper. My first dive-in was Systemsprenger (System Crasher) by Nora Fingscheidt. The script for the film already won numerous awards. Anyone lead to believe that it’s about a nine-year-old hacker that breaks into Deutsche Bank to untie their connections with Donald Trump will be disappointed. It is about a nine-year-old girl, though, and a very troubled one at that. Benni is the system crasher of the title. A term that refers to children that constantly break the rules and don’t fit anywhere in the welfare system.

The idea that the film is about a hacker came from Alex Billington.

Dardenne, German style

Benni (who doesn’t like her given name Bernadette) creates chaos wherever she goes. She commits violent acts frequently and gets booted out of every institution. Due to a childhood trauma involving diapers, she doesn’t allow anyone to touch her face. Her aim is to be reunited with her mother, who is actually afraid of Benni and doesn’t want her back. We follow her, as well as different social workers who are doing their utmost to help her. One of them, Micha (Albrecht Schuch), is getting closer than is professionally warranted.

Berlinale Palast

The film’s most obvious strength lies in Helena Zengel’s performance as Benni, even when the script is less than subtle. The acting is solid throughout, with Gabriela Maria Schmeide being particularly memorable as a childcare worker who never seems to give up. The best scene in the film comes when she breaks down after yet one more of many failures, and Benni is the one who tries to comfort her.

Systemsprenger System Crasher
Helena Zengel in Systemsprenger

The cinematography by Yunus Roy Imer doesn’t offer much more than realistic colours and drab settings in the Dardennes brothers’ vein, occasionally broken (smashed) by some cinematic flourishes, often in pink. The film also oscillates awkwardly between psychological realism and cheap thrills. An example of the latter is a late scene involving the above-mentioned trauma. A scene that could have offered an opening into Benni’s warped mind, but instead, the director chooses to ramp up the tension, almost to horror levels.

Even though it is a work that may provoke thoughts and discussions about the subject, it does not really work as a coherent whole, and the repetitive violence becomes numbing after a while. I wouldn’t be surprised if Helena Zengel walks away with a Silver bear, though. Hopefully, she won’t throw it into the crowd, as Benni would have done.

Others were more impressed than I was. Here is a different take on the film

YouTube video

2 thoughts on “Systemsprenger”

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