“Fermat’s Room” (La Habitación de Fermat) – 2008 Tribeca Film Festival Review

A movie about a quartet of eccentric mathematicians may not sound sexy on the outset, but put these four characters in a room shrinking by the minute and the result is a tense, 88-minute intellectual whodunit.

Directors and screenwriters Luis Piedrahita and Rodrigo Sopeña – whose previous work in Spain includes talk shows and a television show about, of all things, magic – have penned a riveting story in “Fermat’s Room” (translation: “La Habitación de Fermat”). The correct solution to a math problem in a letter written by a man named Fermat brings together Hilbert (Lluís Homar), Galois (Alejo Sauras), Oliva (Elena Ballesteros) and Pascal (Santi Millán) via another letter, this time a mailed dinner invitation designating a remote meeting place, an assigned pseudonym and other instructions.

It’s a bit of a thinking man’s “Clue.” But while “Fermat’s Room” has its lighthearted moments, a direct comparison to the board game-based ‘80s slapstick comedy doesn’t do the plot justice – and this from someone who happens to be a huge fan of the latter. Instead, the four characters find themselves solving mathematical puzzles, or what are translated as “enigmas,” delivered through a hand-held wireless device. As these enigmas become more complex, they still prove to be easier to solve than a bigger question that quickly morphs from why they were brought together to who wants to kill them. While quantitative problem solving plays a prominent role in the story, it cleverly avoids overwhelming the dialogue propelled by four very strong leads.

“Fermat’s Room” screens five times at the Tribeca Film Festival beginning Fri., Apr. 25. For ticket information, go to tribecafilm.com.