Generations of naturalists and scientists have risked their lives in the name of discovery. Attempting to understand the power of nature cannot be taken lightly. Whether examining a creature, observing a new phenomenon, or seeking an understanding of a known cycle, the natural world can be a deadly place. Yet the pursuit of knowledge can create an immortal legacy for some. For Katia and Maurice Krafft, volcanos, lava, and sulfur were too intriguing to pass up. Debuting at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, Fire of Love follows their monumental career while relishing in the beauty of their romance.
After meeting in the 1960s, Katia Conrad and Maurice Krafft begin a whirlwind romance. The two quickly bond over their love of the natural world and around the study of volcanos. After marrying, they devote their lives to studying the red and gray volcanos. They soon began filming their expeditions, creating an archive of some of the most unique and beautiful examinations of volcanic activity. In 1991, they would perish in the Mt. Unzen eruption while conducting research. Their research and archives have made them critical figures in understanding volcanos and geological phenomena since the 1970s.
Director Sara Dosa approaches Fire of Love with a frenetic energy few would expect from a film about nature. Yet Dosa adds style and excitement to make Fire of Love far more than your average scientific documentary. She combines French pop music, movie scores, and gorgeous string instrumentals to underscore the sheer joy of the Krafft’s existence. They radiate through the screen, allowing Dosa an intimate portrait of their life together.
Yet the Kraffts were not your run-of-the-mill scientists. Whether they knew it or not, Maurice and Katia captured the beauty of the natural world with some of the most unique visuals imaginable. Rivers of red lava speed down mountainsides. Explosions of lava launch the magma hundreds of feet over their heads. Sometimes, they even push the limits of safety. At one point, Maurice holds a ball of magma in his gloved hand after repeatedly stepping on cooling lava to illicit flames from the Earth. The Kraffts establish a unique, often comedic, visual language across their films. In an alternate world, they would have shaped the future of cinema instead of chasing the next volcanic eruption.
The danger required to capture the oceans of lava cannot be understated. Both Krafft’s acknowledge the danger in their pursuits. Maurice believes his death at the hands of a volcano is a near- certainty. Katia already mourns the eruptions they will never get to see. Yet their understanding that rock and magma will outlast them by millennia conveys a peaceful acceptance of their fate.
Dosa expertly utilizes director Miranda July to deliver lyrical love letters to the Kraffts and to the Earth itself. July’s vocal cadence adds an ethereal beauty to the film. Not only does she make scientific explanations about Earth’s complexities understandable, but she leaves the audience with the feeling that we’ve been caught in a dream. The Kraffts feel destined to spend their lives together as if neither could survive without the other. The beauty of the words and feelings they hold for each other informs July’s narration.
Dosa wisely spins this story of research and tragedy into a tone befitting a romantic comedy. Dosa provides a balance between the exposition required to understand these phenomena and the playful images on the screen. As Maurice swings his feet over the side of a boat while July relays the dangers of the Krakatoa volcanic chain. Animation is woven into the story to show the unique motion of tectonic plates and lava flows beneath the surface. The visuals of Fire of Love help the information go down easy, and the spectacles captured by the Kraffts reinforce the danger.
Fire of Love quickly establishes itself as an entertaining film, even as tragedy awaits on the horizon. It is fun until it needs to be serious. Dosa finds intimate emotional details in her subjects when the Kraffts’ work focuses on emotionless science. Fire of Love is one for the ages, staking an early claim as one of the most exciting films of 2022.