Fermat’s Room Interview: Director Luis Piedrahita

luispiedrahitaI know what you’re thinking – Ola saucy geek boy! And I would have to agree. Luis Piedrahita is eye-candy for the intellectual world cinema fan: not only is he an accomplished writer for both comedy and magic shows in Spain, he is now the proud owner of low-budget arthouse directorial status.

And on top of all this, he’s hot.

Despite working my flirtatious magic during our fifteen minutes of telephonetic joy, I fear my rating of Fermat’s Room as “average” may mean that the hypothetical white wedding (complete with Cinderella-esque horse-drawn, pumpkin carriage), is off.

Unfortunately, without a sound grasp of the Spanish lingo (I can just about manage “Doss servaysass por favorr”) our love will only see the light of day in an epic parody of Brian Friel’s Translations that will play on a loop in my mind.

Luis, if you’re reading this (and you have a translator to hand), I take it back. I take it all back!

Where did the idea for Fermat’s Room come from?

It came from one concept – we have no money! In the very beginning, Rodrigo and me, we tried to make “a short cut”. We tried to make a movie with a budget; with the money and the people used to make a short film we tried to make a feature, a real movie. Asking for favours, speaking with friends and with that kind of budget, we tried to have a movie at the end.

We tried to write the cheapest story we could, so we wrote a story that happens in only one room, with only four characters: there is nothing that could be cheaper than that. So the room needed to be as interesting as possible and we created a new character with the room as a “shrinking room”.

We built up the story and once we had the script, two production companies were interested in that movie, which was born as a very, very low budget story and they come up with the financing and then we could make the film.

It was very professional considering you had such a small budget. It was very beautiful to watch.

It was a very romantic project.

What films were you inspired by in creating the mathematical thriller/horror atmosphere of the movie?

Rodrigo and I have always loved the kind of movie that has a witty plot or the kind of stories that Agatha Christie wrote. The movies which inspire us are the kind of movies that have the whole feature happening in one room like Twelve Angry Men or Cube; we like that challenge – writing something that happens in only one place.

Did you take any inspiration from films like Saw, a big budget, American, horror blockbuster?

We wouldn’t like to make a very bloody movie but we like the ingenious twists and turns, as well as the witty plot in Saw. Someone said on the internet that Fermat’s Room is like Saw without blood, or Cube but with an ending and like an Agatha Christie story so we would agree with that opinion.

With Spanish director’s such as Pedro Almadovar doing well at Cannes and on the world stage, what do you think this means for Spanish cinema?

I have no real explanation but here in Spain in the last year it was like a fashion, or trendy, like a craze, a fad – two years ago it was the thriller so you have movies like [Rec] it’s a movie by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza and The Orphanage and Fermat’s Room. There were three thrillers in one year, so that was “a moment”. I cannot explain why but it was a fact.

What other Spanish directors should we be looking out for? What would you recommend?

The obvious is Alejandro Amenábar, whose movie is premiering soon, the film is called Agora. It was premiering in Cannes. There is another Spanish production company called Ilion and they are making an animation movie that’s called Planet 51; it has a very high budget for a Spanish movie. I think it’s the most expensive movie in the whole history of Spanish cinema. It’s not a normal animation movie – it’s very near to Dreamworks or Pixar and it’s very strange for Spain, to make that kind of movie.

Fermat’s Room deals with very important themes – the character of Hilbert wants to die knowing that he’ll be remembered for solving Goldbach’s Conjecture. What would you like to be remembered for?

When we wrote and made Fermat’s Room, our only purpose and only intention was to entertain. To make the audience have a happy hour and a half, to enjoy being at the cinema for that period of time. We work for the entertainment business, so we have to entertain. We have no other philosophical pretensions.

So we find mathematicians very interesting characters. We thought they could be the most interesting personalities for a movie that happens in only one room and the room itself is a riddle; it’s a puzzle. It’s a shrinking room, with all the riddles and enigmas that they have to solve. But we would like to be remembered for trying to entertain people for one hour and a half. Only that.

You and Rodrigo both have experience writing for comedy and magic TV shows in Spain. Why did you decide to make a thriller rather than a comedy or a film about magic?

Because comedy is very,very difficult to direct and make. To make comedy cinema, for me is impossible.

With comedy you work in pieces, you make one shot here, tomorrow you have another actor and shoot other parts of the script and at the end it has to be funny and fresh and that’s impossible, I don’t know how they do that! How can they do that?! So we take a thriller which is a little easier because you have patterns and other movies to refer to like an instruction book. You follow the steps and know what you have to do, so on the one hand that was easier.

But Rodrigo and I both love the kind of movie that has a lot of suspense like Hitchcock or Agatha Christie tales, as they have a lot in common with humour and magic. A suspense movie is like comedy and humour because all those kinds of tales are looking for a surprising ending. Magic has a surprising ending and humour has a surprising ending that makes you laugh and the suspense needs a moment where you say “Oh that’s the bad guy!” and it’s a surprising end. So we are specialists in those kind of tales.

Sally McIlhone