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La Habitación de Fermat (Fermat’s Room)

October 3, 2008

At the start of ‘mathematical thriller’ (is that an oxymoron?) La Habitación de Fermat, a cheeky voice out of the ether suggests, directly to us it seems, that if we don’t know what prime numbers are, we may as well leave now.

Cue giggle.

It’s a pretty good joke, but ultimately the best moment in a movie that might almost have been called Format’s Room, so rigidly does it stick to the tried and tested framework of a bunch of strangers brought together by a mysterious host, solely for the purposes of being ingeniously offed.

Yes, Ten Little Indians, of course. There is a locked room teaser chucked in for good measure (the protagonists are trapped in a room that is steadily getting smaller) but as far as originality is concerned, it strains and strains.

Young and apparently sexy super mathematician Galois (Alejo Sauras), who has recently solved a centuries old maths puzzle, is invited by the mysterious Fermat to attend a gathering of other mathematical geniuses to think through a certain ‘enigma’. Along for the ride are stock middle-aged character, depressive alcoholic responsible-for-a-death character, and tough-but-attractive character (Elena Ballesteros) who, as always happens in such pursuits, is also known as The Best Thing In It.

Informed that they must not bring mobile phones (stop rolling your eyes, I can see you), all agree and, once they meet the elderly Fermat, begin a game of riddle-solving in a grand room of a remote farmhouse. Fermat is summoned to the hospital (as host it seems he’s been allowed a ‘phone), and as soon as he’s gone, the door is locked and the walls start coming in. Forced to answer mathematical riddles (which as a fairly innumerate person, I’d heard of) via a conveniently located PDA, correct answers winning them time, they are put under more and more stress as the hydraulic presses rigged up outside slowly begin to go to work.

In all the anxiety, it transpires that, despite the subterfuge, all do know one another, that there are guilty secrets and no shortage of scores to be settled. But you knew that, right?

It’s all pretty stagey, although if you totally buy into it, and suspend disbelief completely, then it’s fairly tense and the various dramatis personae do their best to keep it trundling along to a relatively taut finale. But if you’ve seen Cube, you may as well not bother, because there’s nothing new here.

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