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Fermat’s Room: Film Review: Secrets, Lies and Advanced Math Abound in this Spanish Movie

Published by Salvatore Fanucchi

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U.S. Film Festival Release: Tribeca Film Festival, April

What happens when you bring four brainy and very different mathematical types to a remote location for a game-off? Sooner or later, the walls start closing in.

Such is the premise of this rollicking and sublimely preposterous film written and directed by the team of Luis Piedrahita and Rodrigo Sopeña. This is the first feature film for the duo of Spanish television writers.

The Setup

Four personality types: an avowedly suicidal yet avuncular middle-aged chess whiz (Lluís Homar of Almadovar’s “La Mala Educación/Bad Education”), a cynical and dismissive inventor in his 30s; a beautiful mid-20s math student who doesn’t suffer fools; and a 25-year-old prodigy, complete with his own groupies, who’s just solved a 250-year-old conundrum – this is the group that’s invited, seemingly through their random ability to solve a cypher sent to them, to the remote country house of their host, Fermat (Federico Luppi of “El Labirinto del Fauna/Pan’s Labyrinth”) for a weekend of Mensa-level gamesmanship.

Who is Fermat and Where is His Room?

All the foursome really knows of “Fermat” is that he was a 17th-century French mathematician; indeed, each member of the group has been assigned the pseudonym of a great historical thinker or mathematician for the weekend, along with strict instructions not to reveal real names or elements of their lives to the others. The resulting identity masquerade leads to some interesting discoveries for each of the characters – and for the audience.

Solving For X in Fermat’s Room

The guests are required—and “required” is the operative word—to solve a series of timed, cryptic puzzles sent to them by iPhone. For example: there are three boxes, each incorrectly labeled: a box of anise balls, a box of mint balls and a box of both anise and mint balls. How many balls would you need to remove from each box in order to determine how to correctly label the boxes? You have one minute.

Viewers now have the layered thrill of trying to solve the conundrums along with the characters; of watching the ways that each character’s personality and worldview informs his or her way of solving (or not solving) the puzzle; and of tensely awaiting the results of the failure to respond correctly or in time.

Twists and Turns

Almost nothing in the movie is as it seems, and because of the strong performances, the crisp editing and the quick pacing, it’s only in the, er, “aftermath” of the film that some viewers may realize, laughingly, how ridiculous and implausible many of the elements are. The film as an experience is such a fun ride, however, that it’s impossible not to enjoy every stimulating moment.

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