For twenty years French geologists Katia and Maurice Krafft indulged in their great love, exploring active volcanoes, cameras in tow. “Katia and Maurice had spent their lives documenting how the earth’s heart beat,” says narrator Miranda July, “how its blood flowed.”
The Kraffts were the Jacques Cousteaus of volcanology. Their groundbreaking footage and photographs of Mount St. Helens, Mauna Loa, Mount Nyiragongo and others, are as epic as they are educational, charting otherwise unfamiliar territory.
Filmmaker Sara Dosa uses that material as the basis for “Fire of Love,” a stunning new documentary that captures not only the Krafft’s (ultimately tragic) love of volcanoes, but their love for one another.
Near the beginning of the film July says, “This is Katia and this is Maurice. It’s 1991, June 2nd. Tomorrow will be their last day,” telegraphing the story’s tragic end at Mount Unzen in Japan. But before we get there, director Dosa uses 200 hours of 16-millimeter film and archival photos and interviews, to tell two stories, one of scientific passion, the other of simple and pure passion for one another.
Visually the film makes an indelible impression. The otherworldly images of volcanoes are breathtaking, like watching pictures sent back from another planet. Dosa enhances the silent footage with interesting foley to awe inspiring effect. These shots, including boating on a lake of sulfuric acid, and protective clothing bursting into flame, coupled with thousands of gallons of flowing lava, betray the risks the couple faced every day on the job.
Those scenes are memorable, but it is the relationship between Katia and Maurice that gives the movie real depth. Their bond is evident in their joy, the sheer exuberance ion display. The scenes of them talking are limited to talk show appearances and the odd bit of in situ dialogue, but their bond as soul mates, living and loving the life they’ve chosen, is undeniable. They are not stuffy scientists, but passionate, funny seekers with a philosophical bent to their understanding of the natural world.
“I have a hard time understanding humans,” Maurice says. “I mean, I am one. I’m not constantly running away from them. But I believe that by living on volcanoes, away from humans, I’ll end up loving humans.”
“Fire of Love” is not just a nature documentary, it’s something more. It’s a character driven film with stirring images best seen on the big screen of a movie theatre, about the nature of passion.