Fire of Love is immediately astonishing, setting glorious volcano footage to a killer score, even before introducing its subjects. But like Grizzly Man before it, viewers enter the theater with full knowledge of the subjects’ terrible fate. This is a softer-edged film than Herzog’s tale of bears and insane people, and it’s one that isn’t at odds with the humans at the center of it. Timothy Treadwell’s footage was impressive, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a single conservationist/wildlife expert who would approve of his reckless and selfish actions. In Fire of Love, a film as much about obsession as it is about love and the pursuit of knowledge, our doomed subjects are not reckless, nor do they behave as if they are invincible. We know they will die on a volcano as a matter of factual record, but Katia and Maurice Krafft expected it could happen from day one — and they made peace with this fact for the betterment of volcanology.
The Kraffts, shaped by similar war-torn histories, fell in love on their very first date, subsequently devoting their lives to studying volcanoes as up close and personal as can be done. Such a niche compulsion is so rare that their eventual meeting and marriage almost feels like fate. Honestly, what are the odds that two volcano enthused professionals would meet in the wild, let alone fall madly in love? But be it fate or sheer cosmic luck, the two lava-philic lovers crossed paths, and the world of volcanology is infinitely richer for it.
Watching the Kraffts co-exist as scientists is as fascinating as laying witness their romance. Katia, a biochemist, is a touch shyer than her partner, but remains absolutely fearless in the face of earth’s turbulent contents. It’s her job to take samples and photos, while also keeping an eye on her slightly more daring husband. His job is one of geology and videography, but his dream is something ripped out of The Magic Schoolbus: he wishes to one day paddle down a river of lava in a canoe. Why? Because it’s cool. Or maybe it’s because you can’t spell volcanoes without canoe? Anyway, their identical motivations and divergent methodologies make for afamously effective data gathering process that allows them to not just change what we know about volcanoes, but spread what they find to the world through speaking tours and seemingly infinite amounts of breathtaking and detailed footage.
This footage, arranged here by director Sara Dosa, contains the type of awesome natural beauty that can render even the most worldly viewer speechless. When I say awesome, I mean it in the most literal sense. There’s something supernaturally hypnotic about watching lava flow, watching ash and flame explode from the surface of the Earth, watching two tiny little people with gigantic spirits reveling in the majesty of mother nature’s power. The Kraffts show a decidedly strong eye for filmmaking as well, blocking and framing shots with an artistic acuity that showcases their reverence toward one of our planet’s downright scariest and most titanic features. Dosa masterfully draws a story from the footage, finding a tone and pacing that elevates this beyond a simple assembly. The score, by Nicolas Godin, is the perfect backdrop for all the drips, goops, splashes, and bursts, featuring crunchy riffage which gives way to juicy prog sensibilities. Between the soundscape, the delicious graininess of the Kraffts’ footage, and the wealth of fascinating scientific information littered throughout, there are strong 3-2-1 Contact vibes that are simply enchanting.
By the end of Fire of Love, about the time when most documentaries take an editorial angle, Dosa instead lets the Kraffts speak for themselves. Rather than of questioning whether or not the ultimate sacrifice made by the couple was worth it in exchange for what they gave to volcanology, or worse, providing a definitive stance on such things, it is left up to the viewer to weigh it out. But as we all ponder from the comfort of a theater, one thing is made very clear: the Kraffts were perfectly okay with it, and likely didn’t think of it as a sacrifice at all.
Directed by Sara Dosa
Written by Shane Boris, Erin Casper, Jocelyn Chaput, Sara Dosa
Starring Miranda July, Katia Krafft, Maurice Krafft
Rated PG, 93 minutes