There is something about Benni. She hates her full name, the staid-sounding Bernadette. She hates everything and everyone around her. The only person she has any love for is her mother, a woman who cannot reciprocate.
System Crasher is a fascinating but ultimately exhausting portrait of a little girl who has learnt as a baby that the only way to save yourself is to attack. At nine, Benni has been shunted from one group home to another. These are holding pens for kids who do not comply with the system : by being who they are, they crash it, and become a problem for the state, the bunch of educators whose job it is to maintain a semblance of order, and parents who cannot deal with their own children.
Director Nora Fingscheidt paints a vivid, disturbing picture of a wild child. Benni is as unpredictable as a volcano: a quiet moment can turn into a catastrophe because the little girl can go from lying quietly on the sofa to someone who can pick up a blunt object and hit a human head with it; or bang her own head against a car window. She can turn on anyone, even those who care for her.
You can see this damaged little girl as a product of a system which has the money to create shelters for abandoned children, even if those resources are stretched to their limit. Or you can see her as someone who genuinely has no idea of how it is to control their feelings. A girl like Benni, feral, violent, prone to causing damage to others and herself would be locked up and the key thrown away in some countries. We get a close look at the people whose mission is to save these children.
Helena Zengel is terrific as Benni : it is a hard thing to do, to pull off a fully dislikeable character and still keep us with her, and Zengel manages it beautifully. But finally the film is a slog. There is no redemptive arc to her, and to the film.
Francois Ozon’s By The Grace Of God is an exploration of individual faith and the collectivism of organised religion. It is based on the real-life case of Father Bernard Preynat who was charged in 2016 with multiple cases of sexual abuse by his now grown-up victims.
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