system crasher

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System Crasher (GermanSystemsprenger) is a 2019 German drama film directed by Nora Fingscheidt.


The nine-year-old Bernadette, known as “Benni”, is considered aggressive and wayward. If anyone but her mother touches her face, she lashes out – a consequence of a childhood trauma in which, according to the social worker, nappies were pressed into her face; this prompts other children to provoke her and set off an outburst of rage. She has been repeatedly suspended from her special school and no foster family or residential group can tolerate her for long. As a so-called “system crasher” she seems likely to fall through the framework of the German support system for children and youths. Benni just yearns to live with her mother again. However, it is also too much for Bianca, who is afraid of her own daughter. She is also mother to two more young children and is living with the abusive Jens, from whom she is unable to part. In one scene Benni runs away and hitch-hikes home to find her small siblings alone, unsupervised and watching horror films. Showing she can be caring, she switches over to a children’s channel against the wishes of her brother and prepares some food. When her mother returns with her current partner, whom she has for some time wanted to leave, Benni is at first overjoyed to see her but then explodes and with a vase attacks first Jens and then her mother who calls the police. Jens strikes Benni and shuts her in a wardrobe until the officers arrive

gabor on childhood traumaanything that is ‘wrong’ with you began as a survival mechanism in childhood – gabor maté

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There are no specialist boarding schools for children as young as Benni and a stay abroad in Kenya is suggested as a last resort. Benni flees to Micha and his family, who are prepared to let her stay for one night. In the morning, while the parents are still sleeping, Benni goes into their bedroom and lifts the baby from his cot, takes him downstairs and carefully gives him breakfast. When the baby unwittingly touches Benni’s face, she makes no objection. On waking and coming to the kitchen, Elli, the baby’s mother, tries to take him back and Benni becomes aggressive. She refuses to let the baby go and locks herself in the bathroom. Micha breaks the door open, but Benni has fled through the window, leaving the baby unharmed. She runs in her socks and nightclothes into the nearby wood, where she collapses into confused dreams. Hours later she is found hypothermic and taken to hospital.

She is to be sent to Kenya, but at the airport she runs out of security. The last shot of the film is of Benni as she leaps into the air, smiling. The frame freezes and then cracks like broken glass.


System Crasher is Nora Fingscheidt’s first fiction feature film as director. Her attention was first drawn to the theme while filming the documentary Das Haus neben den Gleisen (2014) with Simone Gaul, which depicts life in a refuge for homeless women in Stuttgart. Among the women Fingsheidt met there was a fourteen-year-old girl, who as a system crasher was no longer accepted by any institution in the youth welfare service.

Fingscheidt wrote the screenplay after five years of research during which she lived or worked in residential groups, in a school for educational support, an emergency accommodation centre and a child psychiatry unit. She talked to staff at institutions and agencies as well as child and youth psychologists. Fingscheidt says she made System Crasher to raise awareness of severely traumatised children like Benni. It was a conscious decision to choose a nine-year-old girl with no background of migration and before the onset of puberty as the central figure, even though the majority of system crashers are boys. It was so that she “could keep away from clichés and rash categorisations” like the pubescent rebellion of a fourteen-year-old and similar imputations of gender or ethnicity. 

Making a documentary about system crashers was never an option for Fingscheidt: “I wanted to create a wild, high-energy audio-visual cinema experience that made no claim to be a record of reality. The reality is much worse..t


.. praised the script as a “nightmarish, sensitive and meticulously researched commentary on [the German] pedagogic system and a moving, humanist plea for the ‘difficult’, the non-conformist, the presumed dysfunctional

myth of normal et al

crazywise (doc) et al