• Golden Globe Awards

System Crasher (Germany)

German writer/director Nora Fingscheidt’s feature debut System Crasher ventures into the little talked-about world of mental health. The nine-year-old Benni (Helena Zengel) suffers from preverbal trauma and abuse and is ushered from institution to institution in the absence of parental care. Helena’s single mother, who suffers an abusive relationship herself, is unable to cope with a daughter who often bursts into violent behavior toward kids and adults alike. Benni’s benevolent caseworker Maria (Gabriela Maria Schmeide) and special educator Micha (Albrecht Schuch) run into an impasse when their efforts to find an effective treatment of this “system crasher” fail.There is a respite in the turbulent life of the disturbed girl and those who care for her when Micha takes her on a three-week trip to a cabin in the woods. Despite the educator’s bravery, nevertheless, things don’t go well in the end. Benni’s wish to live with her mother never materializes, and the film closes on an open-ended note.In an interview at the 69th Berlinale in February 2019, where the film earned the Golden Bear, Fingscheidt said that she first heard of the term “system crasher” when she was making a documentary at a shelter for homeless women. There was a 14-year old girl who, though very young, had to be institutionalized because no one could handle her. She became the inspiration for her little heroine.It is difficult to believe that Helena Zengel, who plays Benni, is actually a normal girl. Her presence on the screen is intense and utterly convincing. She was only the seventh girl that auditioned for Fingscheidt, but the director eventually gave her the lead role because Helena could play “aggression and violence always with layers of vulnerability and desperation”.Another striking aspect of System Crasher is its non-judgmental attitude toward the characters. There are no good and bad guys here. Neither is the girl a misunderstood angel nor the caretakers, crude disciplinarians. The story evolves despite the characters’ good intentions because of factors that are beyond their control, stemming from the abyss of mental illness. “For me, making a film has to give a new perspective on something relevant,” said the director. “(It is) more interesting when you change the line between good and bad and who’s to judge or not.”