• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:September 5, 2022

Fire of Love: A Burning Passion

Photo: Neon

Putting together a documentary that relies entirely on archive footage, with no new interviews, must be a challenge. I can name a few lauded examples where I personally have had some trouble getting emotionally involved in the story; it’s as if you can sense the tears and sweat behind the ”patchwork”, coming from filmmakers who have chosen not to provide additional depth or context by having a relevant person talk on camera about what we’re seeing. But then there are examples of films where the footage and the editing is so good you can’t take your eyes off of it. This one wowed audiences at Sundance and is definitely something to see on a big screen.

Deciding not to have children
This is the story of the Kraffts, Maurice and Katia. Both fell in love with volcanoes at an early age; as a young teenager, Maurice had accompanied his parents on a trip to Naples and Stromboli where he first came close to these natural wonders. He was also taken aback by Katia, a girl he met while studying at the university of Strasbourg in the 1960s. They fell in love and married in 1970. The couple knew right away that they wanted to devote their lives to studying volcanoes and decided not to have children.

In the 1970s, the Kraffts began to draw attention to themselves on account of their research, courage and ability to reach audiences through TV appearances. People became fascinated by them and they trod where few others dared. There was a powerful eruption in Iceland where none of the other volcanologists wanted to walk too closely… but Katia showed them how it was possible to get very close to the mouth of the volcano without jeopardizing one’s life.

Leaving a wealth of footage behind
Well, the danger was relative. After all, the Kraffts finally met their destiny during a 1991 eruption of Mount Unzen in Japan, falling victim along with many others to a pyroclastic flow, which is what usually kills people near volcanoes. The filmmakers take us inevitably to that moment, building emotion as we learn that death was indeed sometimes on the couple’s minds. At least they died together doing what they love, and love is certainly a huge theme here.

Director Sara Dosa and her team provide rich portraits, again aided by the wealth of footage that the Kraffts left behind, of the couple, together and as individuals. They may have come across as very similar, but they differed; Katia focused on meticulous observations while Maurice was always drawn to the spectacular, the big picture. There’s something incredibly endearing about them as we see them jumping around on lava rocks, wearing little red hats, looking like they’re ready for their own Wes Anderson movie.

Much of the film reminds me of a different filmmaker though: Werner Herzog. Much like Dosa, he’s always been fascinated by people who live close to nature and become obsessed. The Kraffts did feature in two of his documentaries about volcanoes. It’s easy to be reminded of Herzog’s Grizzly Man (2005), about a naturalist who was finally killed by a bear, the animal he thought he could have a relationship with. Unlike Timothy Treadwell, the Kraffts never thought, even when taking risks, that they could tame the immense forces of nature.

The Kraffts did have an eye for cinema and the eruptions they documented are awe-inspiring.

I mentioned that this is a film to see on a big screen. The Kraffts did have an eye for cinema and the eruptions they documented are awe-inspiring – and varied. The footage shows different ways a volcano behaves during an eruption; it’s beautiful and terrifying. A film that entertains and educates, while its love story is inspiring, even provocative, I’m sure, to some people.

Fire of Love 2022-U.S.-Canada. 93 min. Color. Produced by Shane Boris, Sara Dosa, Ina Fichman. Directed by Sara Dosa. Screenplay: Shane Boris, Erin Casper, Jocelyne Chaput, Sara Dosa. Editing: Erin Casper, Jocelyne Chaput. Narrated by Miranda July.

Last word: “We wrote this outline ahead of time, which helped us to decipher the steps of a love story. That was just very useful in focusing things down. Because there was just so much amazing imagery that we were just like, ‘Ah, this is incredible.’ And you want to use it, but we couldn’t if it’s not going to fit in. I really feel like Maurice and Katia’s legacy and what they left behind is so expansive and magical and beguiling that there could really be 20 films made from their archive, and each of them would be totally unique.” (Dosa, RogerEbert.com)

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