By Maria Salgado Gispert | Drama
A lonely cleaner and an after-school instructor exchange glances and wordless sympathy.

Sofia works as a janitor at a school, where she goes about her seemingly endless work, often left alone and listening to self-help affirmations on her headphones.

Every day, an instructor named Ivan comes after school to teach students skating. Sofia enjoys watching them, and she and Ivan exchange friendly glances of understanding. But she has never interacted with him and often leaves before the skating club ends for the day. One day, though, the skating class ends prematurely because of rain, and they find themselves getting ready to leave at the same time.

Directed by Maria Salgado Gispert with a script she co-wrote with Maite Voces, this small slice-of-life drama is a character portrait of a woman often left to the sidelines of life, but who takes a risk and finds a moment of joy and connection -- and perhaps herself again.

The visual approach has an intelligent, observational quality, notable for its muted cinematography and wider, sometimes abstract shots that seem to emphasize how Sofia works at the edges of the school, unnoticed and unobtrusive. Periodically the frame floods with students, who scurry around her and fill up space, almost like flooding Sofia towards the background or margins.

It mirrors perhaps the way Sofia has been pushed to the background in her own life, as the writing and sound carefully dole out key information about her life: there's a daughter who is ungrateful and difficult, as well as the stream of self-help affirmations Sofia listens to as she works. These provide ironic humor as she pulled to and fro, thanks to the boisterousness of the students, who trample over her cleaning without any regard.

The storytelling takes time to build, but it moves forward when Ivan, the skating instructor, enters the picture. Their friendly smiles and sympathetic acknowledgment of one another clearly add a spot of cheer in Sofia's workday, and their wordless rapport fits right in with the elegantly economical craftsmanship of the filmmaking.

Actor Mercedes Castro as Sofia also offers a similarly pared-down, reflective performance of a woman worn down by routine. But as she readies herself to leave, letting down her hair both literally and figuratively, we see a woman yearning for a bigger life. When she and Ivan finally connect, it's a pleasure to watch her reveal another side of herself: playful, bold and joyful.

"Loca" is only "crazy" in how it broadens the way we see Sofia, an older woman defined by the humbleness of her jobs as mother and janitor and very often not noticed by the world around her. But in this gem of a short, the figures we take for granted in our lives have impulses, appetites and yearnings like anyone else. Even just a look of acknowledgment or a friendly smile goes a long way to see their full humanity, no matter what their age or station in life.

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