Chris Kennedy

“The Clouds in the Crack of the Earth: Philippe Cote, in Memorium,” June 27, 2017

The Clouds at the Cracks of the Earth: Philippe Cote, in Memorium

While they were not widely known, Philippe Cote’s films made a significant impact on those who learned of them. A member for almost 20 years of the Paris film cooperative microlab L’Etna, Cote worked in a community that was drawn to the artisanal possibilities of image-making. His early work reflected this materially ruminative tendency, optically layering and reworking imagery into elated bursts of colour and gesture (as represented in this programme by his stunning self-portrait Ether). In his later-period films, shot solely on Super 8, he expanded his practice into the realm of ethnologies of place — looking for the boundaries of lived experience, whether in ecstatic rituals of worship, the self-Othering of la vie étranger, or the geological fissures of the Earth itself. Inspired by the poetic ethnography of Jean Epstein, Robert Flaherty and Raymonde Carasco, these films have a luminous, patient quality, somehow managing to capture incredibly expansive experiences using the miniature canvas of the Super 8 frame. Despite the decade of ailments that eventually led to his untimely death last November, Cote’s questing spirit took him as far as India, Nepal, Laos and Thailand, but his strongest films were made closer to home: in the French Alps, whose stunning cloud formations and skyscraping mountains come alive in Des nuages aux fêlures de la terre; Andalusia, whose landscapes he pairs with the poetry of Antonia Gamondea in 19, Espírtu Santo (Andalucía); and the Canary Islands, whose volcanic residue are explored in one of his final films, Timanfaya. In that film, Cote travelled the island “in search of a cataclysm,” but “in this ravaged land [he] saw the tentative beginnings of a return to life.” These images of beauty and regeneration, brought back from the very boundaries of the world, are at the heart of Cote’s work.

Ether dir. Philippe Cote | France 2003 | 9 min. 16mm
19, Espírtu Santo (Andalucía) dir. Philippe Cote | France 2010 | 19 min. Super 8 on digital
Timanfaya dir. Philippe Cote | France 2015 | 24.5 min. Super 8 on digital
Des nuages aux fêlures de la terre (The Clouds at the Cracks of the Earth) dir. Philippe Cote | France 2007 | 18 min. Super 8 on digital