The American Dream is a shared aspiration, no matter where or how you grew up. Whether you’re born in a city in the United States or in a rural town in a developing country, the goal is the same: to attain success and freedom by making your way up to the top. However, the crucial difference is that the path towards this dream is more treacherous for immigrants.
The American Dream and the Immigrant Experience in “Ludi”
In the film “Ludi,”—which premiered at the SXSW Film Festival—the titular character (Shein Mompremier) immigrates from her home country of Haiti to chase the American Dream as a tireless nurse in Miami’s Little Haiti.
Tireless is an understatement and an oxymoron in one. In the film, the exhausted Ludi has been working double shifts for weeks just to be able to send money back home and pay rent to fellow nurse and demanding landlady Blanca (Madelin Marchant). While she finds some solace through her religious friend Sherry (Barbara Sloan), she also has to deal with advances from her coworker Evans (Success St. Fleur Jr.).
Ludi finds some respite in audio cassette tapes sent by her family through mail. They can’t afford the long-distance phone calls so they record over each other’s messages. Her niece asks her for money for a graduation dress. A simple purchase for many is a luxury for Ludi, but one she wants to be able to provide. She ends up accepting a private nursing gig from Blanca to try and make extra money even though it’s not allowed by the hospital.
One night in Ludi’s life, she is shown taking care of a dementia patient George (Alan Myles Heyman) until she herself reaches her breaking point. However, this one night showcases a lifetime’s worth of hard work.
“Ludi” is a poignant wake-up call from the ideals of the American Dream illustrated through contrasts between comfort and weariness throughout the film all for the sake of the American Dream.
The Complicated Solace of Religion in “Ludi”
For immigrants, having a sense of home can come in many different ways. In the film, a sense of home can be seen in the architecture of Little Haiti and even in the evocation of religion. In one of the film’s lighter moments, Ludi’s friend Sherry comforts her through prayer. Ludi’s faithfulness is also brought up—as if the reason for her hardships is because she hasn’t turned to Jesus.
The film depicts the duality of faith and how it can function as a steadying anchor but also one that weighs you down.
can feel both like a steadying anchor but also one that weighs you down. It keeps the believer rooted in a core belief that they can always rely on but it’s also up to the believer to do something beyond just believing. This sense of loyalty can also be seen in Ludi’s commitment to her family.
The Price of Familial Love in “Ludi”
Ludi’s care for her family transcends the everyday difficulties she endures. The audio tapes that they exchange to connect aren’t just a clever narrative device for the film. They’re also an apt depiction of her loneliness, her longing for home, and maybe even the care that she provides others every day as a nurse and healthcare professional. It’s her speaking out about what she wants the world to know—something that becomes more significant in the second half of the film.
Ludi’s commitment to her family is her source of purpose but also the reason for her self-neglect. Her love for her family has always come at a price. At first, the price only seems to be the literal money she has to send back home. In one instance, it’s a black dress. However, the film’s exposition shows it’s at the cost of herself, too.
“Ludi”: Lightening the Burden Through Shared Pain
The second act of the film centers around Ludi caring for the dementia-afflicted George, who’s made himself purposely unbearable. George’s home is devoid of keepsakes or family photos and instead full of notes for chores and things he has to remember. Believing that his children sent Ludi to make life even more difficult for him, he takes out his frustrations on the person assigned to care for him.
George’s outbursts cause Ludi to have her own. The two eventually form a companionship through their shared pain, and this relationship, even though it’s between strangers, lightens their personal burdens. Whether it was intentional or not, there’s an irony in a dementia patient being the catalyst for Ludi’s self-reflection and self-perception.
“Ludi”: Waking up from the American Dream
Jean uses a subtle intricacy throughout the film to palatably portray these ideas that are actually storied with meaning. Although, this acuity in exposition might be why the heavy-handed ending falls a bit flat. Still, his vision of the film—inspired by Jean’s mother’s own experience—is richly brought to life by Mompremier’s zeal as Ludi. Her powerful performance is complemented by Heyman’s layered depiction of a lonesome man.
Though spanning a one-night time frame, the film provides an in-depth look into the immigrant’s experience.
“Ludi” questions the very foundations of the American Dream that prioritizes grit and commitment above everything else. Is it truly a dream if one constantly needs to seek comfort while chasing it? If success and freedom are the goal, why does one have to give up freedom to be successful? The concept of the idealized American Dream is changing—and it’s about time we rise up to it.