Fermat's Room (La Habitacion de Fermat)
Spanish filmmakers are cornering the market in intriguing, ingenious thrillers. Following on from the chronology-warping comic thriller Timecrimes (released on DVD only in Scotland) this murderous mathematical mystery arrives to confound and delight.
The set up has four maths geniuses summoned to a remote location by a mysterious puzzle master who’s named himself after the 17th century French number theorist Pierre de Fermat and who promises to challenge his guests with a great enigma. Gathered in a sumptuous lounge replete with food and wine, a library and a blackboard, but somewhat anomalously constructed within an old farm building, however, the four strangers discover to their horror they have been locked inside a death trap. As the four walls of the hermetically-sealed and pneumatically powered room close in on them, the captives must wrack their well-primed brains and think their way of out of the box.
Expounding on a very peculiar genre of cerebral thrillers that can be traced back to Vincenzo Natali’s 1997 puzzle book mystery Cube (and his 2002 thriller Cypher) and Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s enigmatic 2001 drama Intacto, co-writer/directors Luis Piedrahita and Rodrigo Sopeña’s debut is imaginatively conceived and smartly executed. In the opening scenes, each of the characters is introduced along with a tantalising tidbit of information about the unseen Fermat. Once trapped, their efforts to think inside the box are hampered by a series of fiendishly difficult conundrums set by Fermat. Attempting to solve the enigma ahead of the characters makes for enormously enjoyable viewing, though actually doing so is far a from easy task. By accessing a mood and period of Spanish academia and intellectualism that is both archaic and appealing, northern Spaniards Piedrahita and Sopeña have created a film that resonates with (Umberto) Eco-ish guile and considerable charm. Recommended.
Selected release from Fri 29 May.