SXSW 2021 Review: A Caretaker Needs to Start Looking Out for Herself in Edson Jean’s “Ludi”

“Resting is for people who work for themselves,” Ludi (Shein Mompremier) tells a fellow nurse at the hospice care center where she works in Miami in Edson Jean’s perceptive directorial debut “Ludi,” already having been on the clock well past the 60 hours that the state considers safe. She wants more hours for money to send back home to Haiti, but arrived too late to claim the extra shifts that would make the envelope a little thicker to help pay for a dress for her niece Fafa, the kind of luxury she’d never think to spare on herself, beginning to take side gigs seeing patients privately in addition to her regular job with no time for anything else. Although she tells her mother Gerline that she could start using the phone instead of sending her cassettes as her primary means of communication, it seems for the best when Ludi can listen to them in between the rare breaks she has, running from place to place to make ends meet.

Whereas a lot of dramas about the working class focus on desperation, “Ludi” is unusual in exploring how its main character may be the one most eager to exploit herself, having put so much of her personal life aside that all that’s left is to collect more income without any benefit to herself. That single-mindedness enables others to take advantage, as her co-worker Evans (Success St. Fleur Jr.) can unburden himself of less savory duties at the hospice center by dangling the overtime he has in front of her and her landlord Blanca (Madelin Marchant) never fails to remind of the back rent being due, but Ludi’s refusal to make things easy on herself is perhaps the most damaging, though at least when she receives a tip from Blanca about a tenant (Alan Myles Heyman) who could use some private care, it gives her something in common with the crotchety old man who is as stubborn and set in his ways as she is.

As inelegant as Ludi’s life is, there is an ease to how Jean and co-writer Joshua Jean-Baptiste bring you into her life, building on a captivating turn from Mompremier as the no-nonsense nurse with a story rich in small details about the sacrifices she makes on a daily basis to survive and subtly expressive camerawork from Juan Camilo Barriga that channels the feeling of treading water. Inside the apartment of the man she comes to know as George, the white walls can all look the same to Ludi and the film is structured like a thriller, complete with all its attendant suspense, as she is confronted with his unpredictable nature as well as the recognition of herself in his resistance to accept help. The opportunity to see one another in each other’s struggle not only leads to epiphanies onscreen, but offscreen as well, and “Ludi” offers an arguably even more trenchant observation when while the ravages of age and class clearly take their toll, it’s the distinctly human ability to be one’s worst enemy that unites us when there are so many other inequities to make life difficult.

“Ludi” will screen at SXSW beginning on March 16th at noon CST.