SXSW Review: ‘Ludi’ deftly explores identity and the American Dream with a breakout performance by Shein Mompremier
The greatest thing one can say about art is how it broadens their horizons. Director Edson Jean’s debut feature Ludi certainly had that type of impact on me. Jean’s moving account of Haitian culture in Miami was equal parts beautiful and heartbreaking. Jean’s debut feature deftly illustrates how the American Dream is not the same for everyone. The idea of coming to America for a better life has often been glamorized over the years. Come to America! It is the land of opportunity!
The streets are paved with gold. Hollywood has filled us with these polka-dots and moonbeam ideals that everything will just be better just by coming to America. What Ludi offers is a reality check for us all. Many families who come to America from different countries are more in a hamster wheel than living the American dream, seemingly never able to get ahead.
The film centers around a regular delivery that Ludi gets of a cassette tape where her family back home in Haiti keeps her updated on all news about the family. Some even throw in a request for financial assistance. Everyone who comes across Ludi knows of her good nature and most often exploits it. While she tends to take on extra shifts, her friends tell her to relax. Ludi replies: “Resting is for people who work for themselves.”
Her desire to earn more money to send back home ultimately forces her to break her nurse’s contract and take on a private care client named George. This is where the film comes to a head. Ludi needs to do this shift, but her new client is from the 5th circle of Hell. Who will budge? In this struggle, Ludi begins to assess why she is even doing the extra work to start with.
Jean’s strength in the film is how he framed and captured the Haitian culture’s bustling nuances. The use of light in these shots gave these bustling pockets of Miami’s culture almost a dream-like quality. Ludi has plenty of hand-held shots which emphasized the intimacy between each of the characters. Doing this allowed me to care about elements of the film that normally wouldn’t matter.
The hidden gem in the film is Shein Mompremier. Jean’s casting of Mompremier was his single greatest decision he made on this project. Shein can project such warmth on screen and has the intuitiveness as an actor to use her body to communicate the guilt she’s feeling. Whether it’s her slight slouch or her constant look of stress throughout the 80-minute film, Mompremier elevates Jean’s material to new heights. Ludi reflects the hardships that often come with seeking the American dream, and Shein is a big reason why.
By the film’s end, most will expect that Ludi is somehow able to raise enough money to send home to her family. Perhaps she’ll get the money because of working that extra shift, or maybe even George gives it to her because of the bond they’ve formed. Edson wasn’t seeking to tell some fairy tale. He was seeking to tell the tale of the struggle immigrants face. This isn’t necessarily a Haitian immigrant’s story. It’s about this quest to assimilate into a culture and achieve a dream that, for most, is often just out of reach—a struggle with no end in sight. Sure, there are triumphs for Ludi. More often than not, though, not much changes. Ludi reflects this and certainly broadens everyone’s perspective on the issues others might be facing.
This review is from the 2021 SXSW Film Festival.