Directed by: Sara Dosa
Distributed by: National Geographic Documentary Films
Written by Anna Harrison
The word “soulmate” gets thrown around a lot, but by adulthood, most people realize that while love exists, soulmates don’t. Then something like Sara Dosa’s “Fire of Love” comes around and as you watch Katia and Maurice Krafft frolic along the edges of active volcanoes, small against their immense background but totally united in their love, you start to reevaluate. Maybe there really is someone for everyone.
“Fire of Love” has a twofold meaning, referring to Katia and Maurice’s love for each other and, most importantly, for the love that brought them together: that of the fiery volcanoes they studied, a love that persisted right up until the moment of their deaths in a sudden pyroclastic flow. They left behind the rolls upon rolls of footage from which Dosa and her editors, Erin Casper and Jocelyne Chaput, piece together the film, creating a documentary more concerned with the allure of its subjects (human and otherwise) than just conveying the facts.
Maurice and Katia weren’t your typical scientists—they were often led by feeling, and “Fire of Love” is subsequently a more lyrical film than one might expect from a National Geographic documentary. The voiceover from Miranda July contains more witticisms about love and remarks on the beauty of nature than explaining what exactly the Kraffts do: “Together they are there for the volcano, which is indifferent in the face of their adulation,” she says as we watch them peer upwards towards the top of an active volcano. Stylish if somewhat unnecessary cartoons occasionally dance across the images, adding to the sense of whimsy (though a melancholic whimsy, given the fates of our subjects), but the Kraffts had such a strong visual eye that any additions seem a bit like overkill.
Some images transport us to a science-fiction film in the 1950s as Maurice and Katia, clad in silvery protective gear, seem to dance at the lip of the volcano as lava spews around them, looking for all the world like a pair of otherworldly Martians. The sense of scale inspires no small amount of awe as we understand just how tiny we are and just how massive volcanoes are, how lonely and destructive and alluring they are—but there’s still time for things like frying some eggs, only the heat comes from solidified lava. There are marital spats too, only they arise from Maurice deciding to canoe out into a lake of sulfuric acid instead of something as mundane as forgetting to do the dishes, and even these get documented with startling beauty.
All of this combines into a subtly moving film, one that gently lulls you into its power. As a scientific document, “Fire of Love” might come up short, but as a lesson in editing, a visual showcase, and, most importantly, a dual love story between the Kraffts and their beloved volcanoes, it burns hot.
“Fire of Love” was screened as part of the 2022 edition of the SXSW Film Festival.
You can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd, Twitter, Instagram, and her website.