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SXSW 2021 Review: ‘Ludi’ is equal parts beautiful and tragic

Ludi thrives in the intimacy of the world it creates.

Ludi sits on the bus, staring forward
(Image: © Brigade)

Our Verdict

Ludi is a celebration of resilience, providing an intimate look into the struggles of one Haitian immigrant. Though the film lulls in its second half, it's thematically strong all the way through.

For

  • ☀️Mompremier gives an emotionally raw performance as Ludi, always showing the depths of her joy and frustrations.
  • ☀️Fully immerses us in Miami’s Little Haiti, down to the smallest details that distinguish the neighborhood.
  • ☀️A thoughtful reflection on the endless fight for the American dream.

Against

  • ☀️Slows down considerably in the second half of the film, removing us from Ludi’s distinct environment.
  • ☀️The ending feels emotionally abrupt, not quite landing as intended.

Ludi is part of our SXSW 2021 coverage. You can find all of our reviews here.

In her small rented room — recognizably rooted in Miami’s Little Haiti — we meet Ludi (Shein Mompremier) as she prepares for her nursing home shift. We later learn that this is her sixth night in a row of work, capping off a 60 hour work week. But as she dons her scrubs and fixes her hair, Ludi listens to tapes sent by her family. In their voices she finds joy, and her longing for home becomes palpable. Though their mention of needing money seems to visibly tire her, this is where her motivation becomes evident. From this brief, revealing moment, we understand that what weighs on Ludi also fuels her determination.

Ludi’s emotional honesty centers the film, largely driven by Mompremier’s vulnerable performance. The balance between strength and tenderness is immense and she toes the line with such open intensity that we quickly feel close to Ludi. The film's slice of life approach also goes a long way in establishing this dynamic. Following a chaotic day in her life, we watch as she battles everyone from coworkers and clients to an impatient bus driver, all in the hopes of earning enough to support herself and her family back in Haiti. 

The film thrives in the intimacy of the world it creates. The heat of Little Haiti practically radiates from the screen, with its glowing cinematography making the sun's rays tangible. Like a polaroid buried in someone's home, this snapshot of the young nurse’s life feels especially personal as we share in her every struggle and frustration. Director Edson Jean also intersplices scenes of Ludi’s everyday life, as she sweeps the porch and walks home with groceries under the sweltering Florida sun. These sequences hit with surprising emotional resonance, scattered throughout the film to powerful effect.

Pacing is where Ludi struggles. The latter half of the sees Ludi working a homecare shift, in an effort to make some extra money for her family. She clashes with her patient George (Alan Myles Heyman), a senior who suffers dementia and refuses to admit needing help. Their relationship prompts necessary reflection from both characters, really delving into the depths of Ludi as a caretaker as she confronts someone resistant to being cared for. 

Emotionally, the tension remains, but this is also where the film begins to slow down. Visually, we step away from the spaces that make Ludi so visually striking, disappearing into George’s indistinct apartment. Despite their rapport, the story hits a lull, slowing to establish their relationship before pushing either character forward. While the slowness of the films back half also means the ending doesn't quite hit its mark, the themes of Ludi are well woven and always striking. We never completely lose the sense of intimacy and closeness that the film so expertly establishes, always overwhelmed alongside Ludi.

Early on Ludi’s co-worker warns that her love of work is a sign that the Haitian immigrant is becoming more American by the day but it's clear that this couldn’t be further from the truth. She has the fight of an immigrant, persistent even as the world piles on adversity we long to see her overcome. In many ways, the struggle never seems to ease, but she is never broken. 

In a particularly heartbreaking scene, Mompremier shows us the depth of her performance, as Ludi voices her wrenching anger and frustration. And even after this, she gets up and persists. Throughout the film, her hope often feels irrational but still lingers as a driving force for her resolve. The reality of the American dream for immigrants is examined with brutal honesty, creating a film that is equal parts beautiful and tragic. At its core, Ludi is a celebration of resilience and strength.