Not many people would be brave enough to peer directly into the mouth of an active volcano, feeling the heat of the lava on their face, experiencing the exhilaration of staring into the heartbeat and blood flow of the primal, untamed Earth. But throughout the 1970s and ’80s, married volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft did just that. And they documented what they saw on video in incredible detail, generating far more breathtaking footage of active volcanoes than anyone had ever seen. Yet they didn’t just discover a love for geologic spectacle atop molten peaks; they discovered a love for humanity and each other. And that’s the subject of Fire of Love, Sara Dosa’s beautiful documentary about the Kraffts that draws from hundreds of hours of their footage as well as news and educational programs on which they appeared.
The video and photographic material they collected, chronicle the before, during and after of explosive volcanic eruptions across several continents. Some of these are terrifying, as magma and rock shoot skyward and clouds of ash roll down the sides of mountains. Others are eerie, capturing the glow of an active crater or the otherworldly contours of newly formed rock. The sheer existence of these images is mind-boggling when you think about how close the people with the cameras must have been to the lava and the smoke. But the story that Dosa and her team found in the footage was about a lot more than just danger and natural wonder.
The pair perished in a volcanic explosion in 1991, a fact announced by idiosyncratic narrator Miranda July at the beginning of the film. Yet despite the oncoming tragedy, Fire of Love retains a sense of fairytale magic, a feeling that we’re discovering the world along with the Kraffts, and coming to understand what drove them toward volcanoes. Maurice and Katia’s courtship feels similarly magical, depicted through whimsical animated sequences to convey their unorthodox relationship as two people with a shared passion who seemed destined to live and die together. Throughout Fire of Love, Dosa translates their tale into a fable about doomed love and the allure of the unknown. The result is more than a nature documentary, it is one of the most moving and mesmerizing films of the year, a meditation on the wonders of nature and curiosity.
Fire of Love is boosted by a bonanza of stunning images and fascinating insight into the workings of volcanoes, tracing how the Kraffts gathered their findings through meticulous research and hands-on analysis. Beyond the science, the Kraffts’ treasure trove of footage captured their quirky personalities and talent for stylish cinematography as well. Maurice the geologist was the videographer, tracking movement and scale through a Wes Anderson-esque eye for cinematography. Meanwhile, Katia the geochemist was the photographer, who took precise pictures of the smallest details. The editing transforms these images into a ravishing collage, while the film’s rollicking score makes even a boulder tumbling down a hill feel majestic. By treating the Kraffts’ cache of images as cinema, Fire of Love gives the audience a chance to see volcanoes the way the couple did – as works of art.
The result is an utterly visceral and overwhelming documentary, as disarming as it is explosive. To know the Kraffts is to share their lava affair, and sharing their journey brings you up-close with extraordinary forces of nature that are far more striking and profound than any of the fictional CGI spectacles you’ll see in big-budget blockbusters.