REVIEW: Fire of Love [2022]

Rating: 8 out of 10.
  • Rating: PG | Runtime: 93 minutes
    Release Date: July 22nd, 2022 (Canada) / July 6th, 2022 (USA)
    Studio: Neon / National Geographic Documentary Films
    Director(s): Sara Dosa
    Writer(s): Shane Boris, Erin Casper, Jocelyne Chaput & Sara Dosa

Curiosity is stronger than fear.

World renowned volcanologist couple Katia and Maurice Krafft died on June 3, 1991, 4:15pm Japan time. This isn’t a fact that Fire of Love director Sara Dosa tries to hide. It’s not a mystery that the pair were ultimately killed doing what they had done ever since meeting decades earlier. You cannot do what they did (chase and document volcanic eruptions to study and hopefully understand the science behind their beauty and destructive force) without death inevitably catching up. Dosa and co-writers Shane Boris, Erin Casper, and Jocelyne Chaput instead seek to find the parallel beauty in their lives, comparing their union and subsequent adventure to the tectonic plates colliding (or diverging) beneath their feet at each peak. This collision may seal their fate, but they regretted nothing.

Told via the footage they took during their globe-trotting escapades (and some taken of them by colleagues and the media), Dosa brings us inside the good-natured humor and exacting precision of the Krafft’s life together. Miranda July narrates their tale from the conflicting second-hand conjecture of how they met (no definitive account exists, and they aren’t here to confirm or deny anything) to the shift from following “safe” red volcanos to the “killer” gray ones to the final image ever taken of them alive. Katia was born five years after Maurice, but her hometown was only twenty-two minutes away. Both cultivated their love for volcanos before meeting, a shared interest that became an easy excuse to remain close and never grow apart—partners in everything ever since.

While one could call the film a superficial look at their lives considering it very specifically jumps from one event to another as augmentation to the narrative through line Dosa wields instead of diving into each individually, that’s the point. This isn’t a biography. It’s an essay. Rather than read their words, July is orating a script tying together what carefully curated words (sometimes in their voices and sometimes read aloud by French actors) credited to the Kraffts that are included. It’s about philosophies and motives; risk and obsession. It’s about connecting Maurice’s dream to canoe down lava with his hair-brained stunt of rowing through a lake of acid and the tragedy of 1985’s Nevado del Ruiz eruption to the reason they kept creeping closer to each new crater.

The one thing we don’t need to be told about is their love for one another. That’s obvious from every still photo, media appearance, and film taken of the two enamored side-by-side. He was the geologist and she the geochemist, both providing an integral piece to the volcanologist puzzle that ensured they’d be inseparable when on the hunt (coming back home meant she was cataloging and writing their books while he was editing and promoting their films). Maurice always seems to be joking around and Katia always seems to be smiling ear-to-ear. This is true even when they’re talking about serious issues because they realize the power of “story” when it comes to educating the public with their findings. It’s not enough to spout data. People must see.

It’s a good thing that they must too. The footage Dosa provides from their archives is nothing short of breathtaking. Walls of fiery lava spurting “bombs” towards them as they watch. Rivers of hardened rock still burning at the edges as they run and hop above it. Plumes of gray ash roiling over the land, threatening to consume them whole if they don’t retreat in time. Talk about death-defying feats of insanity. These aren’t scientists sitting at desks to scour through patterns (not that they didn’t do this also). They’re explorers capturing real world evidence from the frontlines to prove the hypotheses and propel the field forward at great risk to their own wellbeing. The work became more important than their lives. If they died, they’d die together.

And they did. It wasn’t about being reckless, though. Not from the information supplied within the confines of this memorialization. The Kraffts’ motives were pure. They worked to help preserve humanity by shedding light upon the mysteries of one of nature’s most volatile forces. Their goal was to mitigate danger, but never fear death when flirting with it meant satisfying their infatuation and saving lives. Their tireless work and sacrifice did exactly that. That’s what Fire of Love teaches us. A scientist’s work isn’t always glamorous, but that doesn’t make it any less crucial or heroic. The Kraffts just happened to also possess the conventionally archetypical celebrity traits of a scientific superstar like Jacques Cousteau. While their work therefore speaks for itself, Dosa’s documentary brilliantly speaks for them.

[1] Katia Krafft wearing aluminized suit standing near lava burst at Krafla Volcano, Iceland. (Credit: Image’Est)
[2] Katia and Maurice Krafft, in blue winter jackets, gaze upon a volcano in the distance as smoke, steam and ash swirl behind them. (Credit: Image’Est)
[3] Katia and Maurice Krafft are seated for an interview in their home in Alsace, France. (Credit: INA)

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