Still in shock ! I felt my heart being compressed and pumped and filled and drained all through this movie, that felt like it was 4 hours rather than 2… in a good way… let’s just say I didn’t think this festival would get so emotional so fast….
Stop reading now if you want to remain unspoiled…
I am overwhelmed… I think that’s the point! I know for a fact that this is a fictional movie, I mean I get it, there was a script, and a crew, and these people aren’t real they’re actors… yet I can’t imagine that they will stop haunting me anytime soon. As I am writing this my heart still breaks for Benni… and I can’t get Micha’s concerned look out of my mind.
Benni (mesmerizing Helena Zengel), 9, is a troubled child, as troubled as I’ve ever seen being portrayed on film. That is if you count out those horrible depiction of “evil” children in psychological backward movies like #TheBadSeed. To be fair I never had the guts to watch #WeNeedToTalkAboutKevin. I’m always worried about movies, tv shows, news articles, or just people portraying difficult kids as “bad”.
Not gonna lie, this completely stems from my own childhood where I often felt misunderstood and unjustly judged and condemned for my behavior. Though to be clear I never truly misbehaved, or got in deep trouble, Benni would have terrified me to my core, but I did transgress weird rules about the way children are supposed to act or talk to grown-ups. I decided at a very young age that no one deserved my intellectual respect solely based on their seniority, I mostly gave them the benefit of the doubt but when I knew I outsmarted them I never pretended I didn’t. Anyway I tend to be on the child’s side as a given, and that is where this movie lives.
Benni can’t afford to respect anything or anyone, she’s an open wound, all she can do is ride the wave of her inner torment. It’s a tough enterprise to stick to the side of a child that can be so violent and out of control she gets scary…. to us… on the other side of the screen… And yet… she never stops being lovable, and relatable, and I’m not sure how Nora Fingscheidt made that happen. I guess an enormous amount of clairvoyant compassion. She’s an equal opportunity humanist though and she services the adults in her story with a copious amount of indulgence and kindness as well (special mention to Micha’s – Albrecht Schuch – soulful eyes & Frau Bafané’s – Gabriela Maria Schmeide – meltdown).
In the end this movie is about the trauma of abandonment, how it tears at your soul, how it destroys anything that might try to grow where fundamental roots have been damaged beyond recognition. Benni is the human incarnation of that pain, that anger, and that deep seated craving for love and belonging… This is a first feature film, and I am now just as excited as I’m frightful of what this incredibly impressive director might offer up next. Though some of the most « cinematic » moves of the film might be the least interesting things about it, there is an incredible touch for direction here. The performances are masterfully raw to the edge of hysteria but never falling into melodrama, which considering the violence of some of Benni’s outburst is barely imaginable.
The greatest talent of this movie is still how concerning it is. It made me want to go into the screen and hug that child (not that she’d have wanted me to, and yet) but also made me think of the larger issue of how we discipline, not only children but adults, and ourselves. How we always turn to strength and anger in times of crisis, forgetting that all attacks are born of pain and misery. I’m not a turning the other cheek kind of girl, but I no longer live with the delusion that wrath is an effective response to anything at all… I wish the grown-ups trying to help Benni would understand… I mostly wish Benni knew that… I know… she’s not real… but isn’t she though?
Photo credits : Helena Zengel, Albrecht Schuch in Systemsprenger | System Crasher. Germany. 2019. Directed by Nora Fingscheidt. Section : Competition. © kineo Film / Weydemann Bros. / Yunus Roy Imer.
French release : unknown.
You can also here our team talk in french about this movie in the podcast Les Ecrans Terribles chez les ours.