If you ask second-generation Americans about their parents’ immigration experience, you’ll likely hear stories of “blood, sweat and tears” as many sacrificed their own comfort to provide a better life for their children. That practice continues today as depicted in the contemporary setting of Ludi, in which an immigrant woman works tirelessly to provide for her family in her native Haiti. Directed by Edson Jean, this modest drama depicts a timeless struggle in pursuit of the American Dream.
Shein Mompremier plays the eponymous Ludi, a nurse living in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood. Working long hours in a nursing home, her only reprieve is the time she spends listening to the taped messages she receives from her family back in Haiti. As her goddaughter’s graduation approaches, she promises to send her a new dress for the occasion. Upon the recommendation of her landlord, she decides to take on a private client and earn some extra cash. But as she attempts to juggle all of her commitments during an eventful day, she realizes that she may be in over her head.
Before the hustle and bustle begins, we meet Ludi in a quieter moment, as she enjoys the latest tape that has arrived from Haiti. As she listens to folktales, receives updates about the lives of her relatives and records her own messages in Haitian Creole, we get a strong sense of the love, longing and homesickness that drives the character. Later, we also get a further sense of her identity when she converses with a fellow Haitian bus driver.
These private moments provide a rare glimpse into Ludi’s personality, as she soon becomes defined by work as she hustles to make ends meet. When she encounters the cranky Jewish man who is her new private client, the film focuses on their tense interactions as he insists that he doesn’t need help. Eventually, they come to a compromise and open up to each other. And in the process, Alan Myles Heyman steals the show with the effortless vulnerability and humor that shines through his cantankerous exterior.
Shein Mompremier’s Ludi on the other hand, feels more like a concept than a fully formed character. Despite the intermittent references to her Haitian heritage – including a noteworthy scene where she breaks out into song – she otherwise feels too ordinary. When she finally exclaims “I’m tired!” during a particularly stressful moment, the character briefly springs to life again as a human being and not just a workhorse.
To the film’s credit, there’s no shortage of genuine empathy on display. But without the specificity of non-work relationships and more richly defined character traits, the protagonist becomes another face in the crowd. Though universally resonant, Ludi is ultimately a run-of-the-mill immigrant drama.