From Jacob Tremblay (‘Room’) to Quvenzhané Wallis (‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’), there are plenty of child actors who pack an emotional punch on screen. But ‘System Crasher’ star Helena Zengel tops the lot.
The young German actor plays Benni, a foster kid with anger issues desperate to return home to her mum. She’s a victim of child abuse but none of the measures taken by doctors, social workers or teachers are working to temper this raging, nine-year-old ‘system crasher’: everything is a trigger for her foul mouth and aggression. When Benni is assigned a new school escort, there’s hope that his guiding influence will improve her behaviour, but with her absentee mother and violent mood swings, disappointment feels inevitable.
German filmmaker Nora Fingscheidt shows a documentarian’s forensic eye in her first narrative feature. The harsh realities of the welfare system are never window-dressed.
The camera charts Benni’s every move, capturing each flicker of conflict on her face as she searches for unconditional love. Zengel is a revelation in the role.
‘System Crasher’ may veer towards being over-sympathetic in its approach to its violently problematic protagonist – Benni is a wrecking ball at times – but it delivers a powerful exposé of the limitations of the foster system. And with its impressive young star to the fore, it is heartbreakingly intimate.