Benni (Helena Zengel) is nine years old and angry most of the time. Her mother (Lisa Hagmeister) is not able to take care of her and Benni has already seen more than one care facility or foster family. But she, or rather her anger, seems to fit nowhere. Her social worker (Gabriela Maria Schmeide) is running out of options. She sees one last chance to send Benni on an intense one-on-one retreat with Micha (Albrecht Schuch).
Systemsprenger is an intense and incredibly impressive film. I was absolutely floored by it.
Systemsprenger struck me on two levels in particular. On the one hand, it is absolutely realistic and obviously well-researched (and I say this as someone who actually works in the field, albeit in Austria and not in Germany). The way it analyzes the system and how it fails some of the children is chilling in its accuracy. I could have sworn I was watching a documentary.
The other thing that really had me were the performance. Above all Zengel was simply mind-blowingly good, despite her young age. She is like a force of nature, and that is exactly the impression we need to get to make Benni work as a character. But I also loved Schuch’s performance (and fell in love with Micha a little).
At the end, the film even includes a bit of an anti-colonialist critique, which I didn’t see coming but definitely appreciated. The ending itself was also quite a balancing act: It felt freeing and has a beautiful poetry, but at the same time, it’s actually pretty damn harsh and not at all beautiful.
Long story short, I was absolutely blown away by this film – it will certainly stay with me for quite a while yet.