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by Thor Klein

grade: 6.5

Adventures of a Mathematician meticulously analyses the most important professional achievements of young mathematician Stanislaw Ulam, drawing a multifaceted and honest portrait not only of its protagonist, but also of a crucial period in world history.

Important historical events

Polish mathematician naturalised as an American citizen Stanislaw Ulam was one of the most brilliant minds of the last century, who also helped design powerful hydrogen bombs during World War II. Could a figure like his, therefore, leave filmmakers and artists around the world indifferent? Of course not. And so, in 2020, the feature film Adventures of a Mathematician, directed by Thor Klein and produced by Germany, Poland, the UK, Bosnia and Herzegovina, France, Austria, Romania, the Netherlands, Norway and Turkey, saw the light.

Young Stan Ulam (played by Philippe Tlokinski) has recently moved from Poland to the United States, where he first began teaching at Harvard University. Stan soon became part of the Manhattan Project in New Mexico, where powerful weapons were designed to fight the enemy Germany. At the same time, the man – together with his brother – will try hard to make his sister and parents escape from Lviv – his hometown – which at the time was occupied by the Nazis.

A figure of central importance in the world history of the last century, then. Adventures of a Mathematician minutely analyses the most important professional achievements of young Stan Ulam thanks also to his memoirs (on which the film is based), drawing a multifaceted and honest portrait not only of its protagonist, but also of a crucial period in world history. The hydrogen bomb, one of the first computers in history, the beginning of the digital era. This important feature film by Thor Klein immediately presents itself as an ambitious project, as an important historical document that tells us about a character remembered by few today.

The main problem of Adventures of a Mathematician, however, are certain choices regarding the screenplay and the mise en scène itself. Young Stan has undoubtedly had an eventful life and the unexpected twists and turns that have constantly characterised it are many. Yet, in order to concentrate a large number of undoubtedly important events in just under two hours, the risk that the final result suffers is naturally very high. And indeed, director Thor Klein unfortunately failed to avoid certain mistakes. Too little pathos, for instance, is conveyed by the love story between the protagonist and young Françoise (played by Esther Garrel) – who later becomes his wife – just as very little tension pervades the many moments of personal crisis in which complex existential questions are raised.

In Adventures of a Mathematician everything happens too fast and often with very little warning. If we add to this a mise-en-scene with a purely television character, this important feature by Thor Klein unfortunately loses several points. Despite the fact that this is a work of undoubted charm and historical importance, further enhanced by the good performances of the cast, it will hardly be remembered for a long time. Despite the undoubtedly good initial intentions.

Original title: Adventures of a Mathematician
Directed by: Thor Klein
Country/year: Germany, Poland, UK, Bosnia Herzegovina, France, Austria, Romania, Netherlands, Norway, Turkey / 2020
Running time: 102’
Genre: biographical, drama, historical
Cast: Philippe Tlokinski, Esther Garrel, Sam Keeley, Joel Basman, Fabian Kociecki, Ryan Gage, Sabin Tambrea, Mateusz Wieclawek, James Sobol Kelly, Alberto Ruano, Richard Mason, Camille Moutawakil, Sally Cowdin, Anne-Catrin Märzke, Philipp Christopher, Lucy Bromilow, Martin Müller, Sonia Epstein
Screenplay: Thor Klein
Cinematography: Tudor Vladimir Panduru
Produced by: Dragonfly Films, ShipsBoy, Mirror Productions, Zischlermann Filmproduktion, Erfttal Film, Sampsonic Media

Info: the page of Adventures of a Mathematician on iMDb