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Tribeca ’08: “Fermat’s Room”

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04242008_fermatsroom1.jpgBy Matt Singer

[For complete coverage of the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, check out IFC’s Tribeca page.]

Four Spanish mathematicians convene for an evening of puzzle-solving at the house of a man named Fermat. But almost as soon as they arrive, their mysterious host is called away to attend to his ailing daughter. A PDA rings, giving the group a question they’re told they must solve in just one minute. When they don’t, the walls of Fermat’s room inch towards one another. Now, they must answer the riddles while trying to find an escape before they’re all squeezed to death. In other words, “Fermat’s Room” is sort of “Saw” for arithmetic dorks.

The characters are all supposed to be geniuses, but the problems they have to solve require less advanced calculus than your average brain teaser from “Die Hard With a Vengeance” — lots of trick questions and doors you have to choose between or vessels of different sizes. That’s probably beneath what these sort of people normally do with their brains, but it’s a decision that makes sense from an audience perspective; if writer/directors Luis Piedrahita and Rodrigo Sopeña were really to put four math professors to work solving hardcore theorems, viewers would probably die out of sheer boredom well before the characters on screen do.

The characters all act pleasant and innocent enough at first, but impending doom in these sorts of movies has a habit of revealing people’s darkest secrets. So while there might not seem to be a reason for Fermat (Federico Luppi) to want to destroy Pascal (Santi Millán), Galois (Alejo Sauras), Oliva (Elena Ballesteros) or Hilbert (Lluís Hobar), revelations that they’re all some combination of liars, thieves, adulterers or murderers are inevitable. Three out of four are also remarkably good-looking as far as mathematicians go. Heck, three out of four of them are remarkably good-looking as far as models go. But, hey, that’s moviemaking for you.

04242008_fermatsroom2.jpgFrom the moment the four walls begin closing in with the aid of “Poseidon hydraulic presses,” “Fermat’s Room” unfolds roughly in real time, and we only leave the location occasionally to check in on Fermat’s journey to a hospital. Co-directors Piedrahita and Sopeña rely on the puzzles, the arguments between the prisoners, the deceptions and revelations to keep you on edge, though visually, the movie suffers from a lack of establishing shots. Piedrahita and Sopeña use tighter and tighter close-ups to convey the claustrophobia, and there’s lots of cutaways to the corners of the room as they grind ever closer, breaking light fixtures or knocking pictures off the wall, but after the room starts to shrink, there’s only a handful of shots wide enough to give us a full sense of its diminishing size. More images of that ilk would give us a better grasp of how small the room is and how little time the hottie nerds have left at any given point, which would greatly improved “Fermat’s” tension.

Like most movies about people stuck in inescapable death traps, the ultimate solution to “Fermat’s Room” is, frankly, a little dopey, a particularly egregious problem for a movie about people who are allegedly really, really smart. But for most of its run, it moves briskly as a fun whodunit (and, I suppose, as a howdoit) and Piedrahita and Sopeña’s work manages to be sinister without being grisly — which should please audiences weary of overly gory horror movies — and the film is dotted with little touches that encourage careful viewing (dig the cheeky pattern of the wallpaper). It could still be a little smarter though. The movie doesn’t insult your intelligence, but it doesn’t exactly tax it either.

[Photos: “Fermat’s Room,” Notro Films, 2007]

For more on “Fermat’s Room” (albeit in Spanish), check out the official site here.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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