Fire of Love celebrates the work and love of two people who made great strides in studying volcanoes.
Published on December 23, 2022
Rating 4.5 /5
In the same way Jacques Cousteau blazed a trail in science and media for our understanding of underwater life, the married couple of Katia and Maurice Krafft did the same for volcanoes. Their work as volcanologists during the second half of the 20th century was remarkable for all the explored areas and footage they shot. They also died doing what they loved with who they loved, making for a remarkable story of how two souls made essential discoveries in the area of volcanoes.
The problem with their story is that it doesn’t feel like as much was documented on their lives to warrant that oh-so-typical biopic vying for Oscars. This much is admitted by narrator Miranda July as she specifies that the couple's early life isn’t as well known. Director and co-writer Sara Dosa attempted to find as much as possible for this film and trace all the key points together. She discovers that the two met at college and were interested in political activism. When the two realized they could only go so far with politics, they decided to probe into the world of volcanoes to devote themselves to the mysterious unknowns of nature.
The film works well as a document of all their travels and the mindsets they adopted in their filmmaking and journeys. We get to learn about the different personalities of Katia and Maurice. From what Dosa discovered, Katia liked to center on the smallest details, while Maurice was all about the biggest elements worth noting. They also had different outlooks on how they promote their work, as Katia often ventures into the field while Maurice runs the talk shows, although they still do most of these activities together. There’s plenty of footage of them walking close to volcanoes and divulging their data on TV and in their edited movies.
Dosa makes this film more of her essay on these volcanologists by not shying away from questioning certain aspects. While looking through the vast footage, she found multiple takes and shots of riding horses. You can’t help but ask what purpose it serves to frame these operatic movies. There’s a recognition of how a balance has to be served between making money and making science. The struggle is quite real. Yet there’s also importance highlighted in their work. Their investigations of volcanic activity lead to them trying to warn a country that they need to evacuate the area. The government ignores this evacuation by highlighting the cost. Over 10,000 in nearby villages died due to mudslides. Later, volcano threats will be taken more seriously when activity is detected. The work of the Kraffts has saved many lives.
The documentary is solidly edited to find the best footage, while animations divulge the diagrams of events and fill in some blanks. The 4:3 aspect ratio keeps the viewer engaged with the old footage, embracing all the scratches and burns to paint a picture of unearthed wonder. The volcanic footage is naturally mesmerizing but also terrifying. It’s all the more dizzying to learn about how Katia and Maurice treated these adventures with such ease, relating the routes of lava being no more dangerous than walking alongside traffic. Then, of course, there’s the horrifying footage of the volcanic ash in Japan that would be their demise, captured by a camera that was abandoned by a journalist. It’s a sad end to their legacy but one that lived on based on how much work they did for volcanology.
Fire of Love celebrates the work and love of two people who made great strides in studying volcanoes. It’s as heartfelt a tale as it is an exciting one that highlights the extent of the work that goes into such a science. Far from being dry and tactile, this is a breathtaking documentary that is always engaging and feels like a story important enough to be as immortalized as the couple’s many films.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.