Review by Michael Edwards
WHAT do you get if you put five mathematicians in a room together? I bet you didn’t say ‘mind-bending puzzles, personal intrigue and the imminent threat of death’ did you? Well that’s exactly what Spanish puzzler/thriller Fermat’s Room decided should happen, and that’s fine by us!
The group of mathematicians in question are a group of the finest minds in Spain and they are all gathered together by a letter posing a problem for them to solve. Once they have the answer they are invited to attend a conference in a remote location where they only know each other by synonyms (each one a famous mathematician from the past).
The pretext is that they will be posed one of the greatest enigmas known to mankind, but once they have gathered things soon go very wrong.
It’s a high concept thriller, and much rests on the twists and turns that the audience are subjected to (think Saw but without the gore).
The benefit of populating the film with mathematicians is that they’re always game for a puzzle, so their natural inquisitiveness solves a lot of plot problems that might be thrown up.
What’s more, when the majority of a film takes place in a single room the bright sparks and their brain teasers provide ample entertainment in place of the scenery and effects that are often liberally applied to the genre. But most importantly, there’s enough to the final twist(s) to keep you engrossed even if you think you’ve got it all sussed.
Almost as important are the performances of the lead actors. With the load spread evenly across the key cast, none of them are forced to bear the weight of this dialogue-driven movie. Nonetheless, one weak link and the whole structure falls apart.
Luckily, the group assembled includes veteran Lluis Homar (a frequent participant in the films of Almodovar) whose role as ‘Hilbert’ is performed with great gusto, and Federico Luppi who played the part of Fermat with a simplicity that helped avoid many pitfalls in the build-up to the finale.
That said, the film takes some time to get going and there are moments when it feels like the material is stretched to its limits. The character set-ups at the start of the film drag a little, and the realms of plausibility are tested by the scale of celebrity that seems to be applied to a maths professor (he signs autographs, drives a sports car and is worshipped on campus).
What’s more, the human drama that begins to unwind once inside Fermat’s room has more than a tinge of melodramatic excess dragging it down before it reaches its conclusion.
Nonetheless, Fermat’s Room remains a great example of a simple concept maximised through some testing puzzles and tense human drama. It’s well worth a look.
In Spanish, with subtitles
Running time: 88mins
UK DVD Release: September 7, 2009