• James Rutherford

'System Crasher': A Deeply Compelling Depiction of a Wayward 9-Year-Old Girl in Modern-Day Germany


Movie poster for the 2019 German film "System Crasher"

System Crasher (Systemsprenger) (2009) is a deeply compelling German drama starring Helena Zengel as Benni, a capricious nine-year-old girl prone to violent outbursts stemming from deep-rooted childhood trauma. Suspended from her special needs school and shunned by foster care families, Benni thwarts the resources of the German child support system in her unbridled obstinance—unwilling to conform or compromise in nearly any discernible manner.


Yearning to be reunited with her mother Bianca (Lisa Hagmeister), Benni's caustic nature keeps her separated from her family and in the tentative care of youth services—the deeply committed Frau Bafané (Gabriela Maria Schmeide) desperate to devise some form of treatment for Benni's condition. Ultimately an anger-management specialist named Micha Heller (Albrecht Schuch) is hired to intervene, and his assiduous engagement with Benni in an outdoor education program becomes the heart of this terse tale of calamity and fragmentary compromise.


Written and directed by German filmmaker Nora Fingscheidt, System Crasher is a dynamic and often challenging depiction of childhood dysfunction, unpolished and purposely raw in delivery. Young Zengel is simply extraordinary in her ability to convey volatility, anguish and sentimentality in varying measure—wholeheartedly believable in her portrayal of a child ravaged by uncontrolled impulse. Jarring, engrossing and undeniably compassionate, it's a stunning and unforgettable cinematic experience.