Directed by Sara Dosa
Fire of Love wants to do two things: document the awe-inspiring power of volcanoes and the love of two people who dedicated their lives to it. It delivers on the former to an extent that it sweeps away any shortcomings in regards to the latter.
It’s a story wound around the real-life love and life of Katia and Maurice Krafft, who find each other as students at the University of Strasbourg and together become preeminent volcanologists. They honeymoon in the dells of destruction, and criss-cross the globe chasing eruptions so as to better understand the forces below and document their findings; she with still photography, he with a movie camera.
Together, they leave an endless amount of source material for director Dosa to compile and fulfill what the Kraffts looked to do: show the terrible beauty, awesome presence, and unfathomable force volcanoes can produce. More than just scientists, it’s clear the Kraffts had an artistic streak in them too. More than just dry observation, Dosa’s film highlights the artful framing of Katia’s lens, her fascination with the shape and texture of lava both hot and frothing or cool and alien. Maurice’s shots have a similar perspective and style to them, shooting uphill to catch the dark summit from which red-hot splotches leap. Otherworld, yet in our collective backyards.
You’re watching most of Fire of Love with wonder and awe at these images, because they’re so intimate and immediate. Think of a volcano and you’ll picture smoking mountains shot from afar, serving you something akin to a hill with an angry little chimney. Not so here. Fire of Love is a documentary with the gloves off (and plenty of other gear on) getting closer to the murderous rumble than most people would ever care to, and in turn catching some truly stunning images to put into perspective the forces at play here.
The potential destructive power of volcanoes is put into relief early, albeit on a much smaller scale. We’re shown a little behind-the-scenes clip of Katia and Maurice, excited and happy, only to be told they will die the next day. Director Dosa then winds back time, decades, and picks it back up as the two fiery lovers meet, chronicling their life together and their work as they make their way back to their death.
The narrative framing here suggests there will be talk of the two’s relationship and some insights into their domestic sphere. They’re seemingly destined lovers after all, as two people with an undying fascination with the same thing and mutually elevating partners in their professional pursuit. Sosa doesn’t explore this, however, relaying the information the two decide to not have children with the air of a footnote, a decisive aside before reverting back to their ambitions. This remains the most personal information we get. Makes sense, as the Kraffts didn’t think to share these thoughts or put them down on paper. All there is, is the work.
And what work! Fire of Love may not be the sweeping romance its title promises, but I’d accept worse excuses for what is an artful immersion into the splendor of this ferocious side of our natural world, sprinkled with a romantic kernel of two people who lived fully realized lives thanks to each other and what their common passion showed them.