'Fire of Love' Teeters at the Precipice of a Volcano

Directed by Sara Dosa

Starring Katia Krafft, Maurice Krafft

Photo courtesy of Image'Est

BY Rachel HoPublished Jul 21, 2022

That National Geographic engaged in an intense bidding war to purchase Fire of Love after its premiere at Sundance this year will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen the film. Director Sara Dosa and her team restored hours upon hours of 16 mm film reels dating back to the '60s, which are filled with awe-inspiring and terrifying footage of volcanoes around the world.

Fire of Love is the story of two married volcanologists from Alsatian, France, Katia and Maurice Krafft. The Kraffts, she a chemist and he a geologist, were pioneers in their field, devoting their life's work to understanding volcanoes and their place in the world. And, as you can imagine given their chosen area of study, the Kraffts were bold people — they got within mere feet of lava flows, stood at the base of active volcanoes, all seemingly without a worry in the world. "It's not that I flirt with death," Katia has said. "But at that moment, I don't care at all, because there is the pleasure of approaching the beast and not knowing if he is going to catch you."

Thanks to their gumption and penchant for recording as much of their research as possible — including behind-the-scenes looks at their campsites — we have a remarkable accounting of what goes on in these pits of lava. And, while much of the footage is over 50 years old, the quality of the videos is impeccable. Interestingly, the Kraffts colour-treated some of their film themselves, which the filmmakers used as a guide for their own colour treatment. Dosa and her team found the fine balance of digitizing the footage in such a way as to improve its quality, but without losing the texture of the time period and honouring the vision the Kraffts had for their work.

To say that the images are incredible doesn't do them justice. Considering the vast majority of us will never encounter such spectacles in real life, Fire of Love brings us as close to the beauty and horror of these natural wonders as a film ever could. The colours are incredibly vivid, and the scope of these landscapes is expertly demonstrated.

Dosa fills Fire of Love with archival footage, resisting the urge to include contemporary interviews, which adds to the atmosphere of the film greatly. We are taught the science behind volcanoes through the Krafft's own words, which is incredibly fascinating and easily understood. And, perhaps most importantly, we experience their rise in celebrity and success through their lens. 

But the cinematic quality of the film and the science are only half the story. Fire of Love, at its heart, is a love story.

Katia and Maurice were two quirky people with a very particular niche interest who found each other against all odds. They spent their lives enabling one another's obsession and, in a sense, volcanos were the third person in their relationship. It's what brought them together, sustained their marriage and, ultimately, became their end. Fire of Love speaks to the universe's elegance, bringing together two seemingly unique individuals who found alignment with each other where they hadn't with any other.

While Fire of Love has no narrative through-line, there is a running theme of humanity's relationship with nature throughout the film. The sheer power and sporadic nature of volcanoes is overwhelming, and it's hard not to be humbled by it. The film doesn't push any green messaging, but what it does do is show us how relatively minuscule our species is, and how we are at the mercy of the natural world. And Dosa is careful not to editorialize — what audiences do with that feeling is entirely up to each individual.

What makes Fire of Love such an astounding film is its ability to be a lot of things at once effectively. It's the perfect marriage between education, philosophy, sensory engagement and human connection. And in that way, Fire of Love is also the perfect tribute to two extraordinary souls and their love for one another.
(Mongrel Media)

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