Review: ‘Fermat’s Room’

Math and mystery add up to an unlikely but engrossing solution in "Fermat's Room," a locked-room teaser that handles its limited dramatic permutations with flair, skill and a nicely contempo air.

Math and mystery add up to an unlikely but engrossing solution in “Fermat’s Room,” a locked-room teaser that handles its limited dramatic permutations with flair, skill and a nicely contempo air. Featuring four scientists struggling for survival in a shrinking space, skillfully turned plot develops with the same satisfying twists of logic its protags have to employ if they are to avoid a grisly fate. Visuals, sound work and performances are also up to scratch, auguring healthy offshore sales for this debut by writer-directors Luis Piedrahita and Rodrigo Sopena. Pic racked up some $600,000 locally in its first two weeks.

Young, sexy superbrain Galois (Alejo Sauras), who has recently solved Goldbach’s Theorem, is invited by the mysterious Fermat (Federico Luppi) to attend a gathering of math experts to elucidate an enigma. Accompanying him are jovial, middle-aged Hilbert (Lluis Homar), depressive drinker Pascual (Santi Millan) and hard-nosed, attractive Oliva (Elena Ballesteros). All names are pseudonyms supplied by Fermat.

The quartet is instructed not to bring cell phones and, luckily for the movie, all oblige. Slowness of the setup is explained by the fact that many of the plot points will return later on.

In a remote old warehouse, the group is greeted by the elderly Fermat, who then gets a phone summons to hospital. No sooner has he left than Galois and Oliva are necking. More seriously, PDA messages start arriving, with logic puzzles that have to be solved within one minute; after that, the walls of the room start closing in, courtesy of four hydraulic presses rigged outside. The quartet could be carpaccio after an hour. Facts begin to emerge about the protags’ pasts, the questions keep coming, and the walls keep closing in.

Script, editing and music work closely together to maintain high levels of intensity. Visuals exploit the limited dramatic space available to the max, though pic does make occasional forays into the “real” world. Sound, too, is crucial to the suspense, as every creak brings the quartet’s end a few centimeters closer.

Thesps are either young, sexy and tube-based (Sauras, Millan, Ballesteros) or dependable vets (Luppi, Homar). All attack their roles with gusto, though Sauras, playing the math media star, is not always convincing. For the record, there are a couple credibility-straining howlers along the way, but they don’t spoil the enjoyable nonsense.

Fermat's Room

Spain

Production

A Manga Films release of a Notro Films, Bocaboca production, with participation of TVC, Cuatro, Canal Plus. (International sales: Notro, Madrid.) Produced by Adolfo Blanco, Cesar Benitez, Jose Maria Irisarri, Manuel Monzon Fueyo. Directed, written by Luis Piedrahita, Rodrigo Sopena.

Crew

Camera (color), Miguel Angel Amoedo; editor, Jorge Macaya; music, Federico Jusid; art director, David Fernandez; sound (Dolby Digital), Licio Marcos de Oliveira, Oriol Tarrago. Reviewed at Cines Acteon, Madrid, Nov. 19, 2007. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Alejo Sauras, Elena Ballesteros, Santi Millan, Lluis Homar, Federico Luppi.
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