While director Denis Villeneuve had reportedly vowed not to end his self-imposed sabbatical from feature filmmaking until he found a suitably-compelling project, the short format evidently didn’t require the same high bar of scrutiny. Six years after the making of MAELSTROM (2000), Villeneuve would return with an extremely brief, yet hard-hitting, effort.
Clocking in at its titular two minutes, 120 SECONDS TO GET ELECTED (2006) finds Villeneuve experimenting with the industry’s nascent ability to shoot on a cell phone in the depiction of an unnamed politician delivering a fiery speech to a crowd. Played by actor Alexis Martin, the politician races to convey his message, which begins as a rambling, disconnected stream of passionate buzzwords before quickly coagulating into a fascist screed that whips his audience into a frenzy. Using the same narrative/documentary hybrid approach he brought to his debut short REW FFW (1994), Villeneuve adopts a monochromatic aesthetic to blend a static close-up of the politician’s face with (presumably) pre-existing crowd footage shot at a rally. A recurring series of hard-hitting text intertitles punctuate the politician’s speech by repeating key words and phrases, becoming something of an ideological hammer bludgeoning us with his forceful rhetoric.
If Villeneuve’s natural talents as a filmmaker weren’t evident before, 120 SECONDS TO GET ELECTED handily accomplishes that goal by demonstrating how effortlessly he can construct the implication of a larger world beyond the confines of the frame in a matter of minutes. In foregoing the mentioning of any particular nationality in favor of pure political ideology, Villeneuve creates a dystopic,1984-style landscape saturated with the horror of creeping fascism. A prime example of the fiery, countercultural politics that infuses Villleneuve’s early work, 120 SECONDS TO GET ELECTED draws a direct comparison to the manipulative populism of Hitler, showing how easily charisma and the project of authority can be deployed in the service of insidious ends. At the same time, it predicts the incoherent & reactionary isolationist policies that would deliver Donald Trump and his ghoulish cronies to the White House ten years later.
Though its origins as a short cell phone video might position 120 SECONDS TO GET ELECTED as something of a lark within Villeneuve’s filmography, it nevertheless sharpens his storytelling abilities; honing his artistic instincts for the major works to come.