Dir: Sara Dosa. US/Canada. 2022. 93 mins.
On June 3, 1991, Japan’s Mount Unzen erupted, killing 43 people, including Katia and Maurice Krafft, a French couple dedicated to studying such dangerous natural wonders. Fire Of Love is a tribute to these volcanologists, drawing from archival materials to tell their love story through the prism of their unusual calling. The Seer And The Unseen director Sara Dosa has fashioned this documentary with modesty and sensitivity, in some ways as awed by the strange beauty and destructive power of the volcanos as she is by the nonchalant willingness of the Kraffts to put themselves at risk in the name of science.
Those expecting a Herzog-ian exploration of obsession or madness may be disappointed by Dosa’s far gentler approach.
Premiering at Sundance, Fire Of Love will benefit from big screen exposure, where the documentary’s myriad images of exploding volcanos and hypnotic lava flows will prove even more compelling. Those expecting a Herzog-ian exploration of obsession or madness may be disappointed by Dosa’s far gentler approach. (Incidentally, Herzog recently made his own nonfiction film about volcanologists, Into The Inferno, which referenced the Kraffts.) But with narration by filmmaker Miranda July, Fire Of Love should entice fans of nature documentaries, especially those with a strong human-interest angle.
The picture opens with the Kraffts’ death before quickly going back in time to their first meeting in 1966. Dosa includes no dramatic re-creations, instead using archival footage, much of it shot by the couple, and occasional animation to flesh out their courtship and eventual marriage. Not interested in having children, these two scientists began touring the world’s active volcanoes, bonded by a shared interest in the natural world, as well as an ineffable loneliness that they ameliorated by being together.
July’s hushed narration sometimes lends the picture a preciousness that can be cloying. Fire Of Love is stronger when it lets Katia and Maurice tell their own story, and we see and hear from them through the archival materials, providing clues into their dynamic. During their fact-finding missions, she would take photographs, while he shot films — she was a little more cautious, while he wanted to be daring. They seemed to find comfort in braving the dangers by each other’s side, although they had no illusions that their calling could prove fatal if they got too close to an active volcano that was about to blow. And yet, they seemed weirdly resigned to their fate: at one point, Maurice declares, “It will kill me one day, but that doesn’t bother me at all.”
Fire Of Love also goes into some detail about the dormation and different types of volcanos. (Essentially, there are “red” volcanos, which emit lava, and “grey” volcanos, which produce powerful amounts of ash and are much more deadly.) In her 93-minute film, Dosa emphasises the couple’s ample footage of volcanic eruptions, with Katia and Maurice occasionally literally dwarfed by the destructive force of Mother Nature. Viewers will both understand the allure and recognise how one miscalculation could leave the couple unable to escape.
Dosa reserves judgment, and likewise she doesn’t try to offer sweeping insights into the inner workings of the couple’s marriage. Since Fire Of Love doesn’t feature any contemporary interviews, we’re offered only a limited perspective on their relationship. That strategy preserves some mystery, although it does leave one wishing for a fuller portrait.
That said, as the documentary reaches its inevitable end, Dosa’s reserved, somewhat whimsical tone takes on greater gravitas as we prepare for the couple’s death. Without belabouring the point, the filmmaker seems to be suggesting that these self-proclaimed “weirdos” were luckier than most, able to find in each other a soulmate with whom they could share a lifelong pursuit. As such, Fire Of Love is neither a cautionary tale nor a defiantly upbeat saga about two quixotic individuals. Katia and Maurice Krafft wanted to better understand how the natural world operated, giving their lives in search of answers. Dosa honours them by being similarly curious and open.
Production companies: Intuitive Pictures, Cottage M
International sales: Submarine Entertainment, firstname.lastname@example.org
Producers: Sara Dosa, Shane Boris, Ina Fichman
Screenplay: Sara Dosa, Erin Casper & Jocelyne Chaput, Shane Boris
Editing: Erin Casper, Jocelyne Chaput
Music: Nicolas Godin