Fire of Love Sara Dosa Katia and Maurice Krafft

Passion and tragedy collide in the new documentary Fire of Love

“It’s elementary to see why the story of Katia and Maurice Krafft is resonating with audiences: they were passionate, in love and worked to make the world a better place.”

Against a fiery backdrop of molten lava, two figures seem to dance. Katia and Maurice Krafft are world-famous scientists united in their passion for their volcanoes and each other. After meeting as young people, they decided to get married, not have kids and devote themselves to their passion. During that time, they shot a mammoth amount of footage of their work, providing the bulk of the new film about their life, Fire of Love

Narrated by Miranda July, the movie has a playfully curious tone, despite the inevitably tragic conclusion (the Kraffts die doing what they love most). Adopting a primarily chronological approach, the presence of an all-seeing voiceover struck by childlike wonderment allows the film to divert from expected tropes. As much as it embraces a scientific and biographical approach, through tangents, the movie provides for moments of reflection and imagination that reflect an integral part of the Kraffts’ nature: they were artists as much as they were scientists. 

They made films, and they took photos. They danced at the base of volcanoes, and they framed shots that captured the sense of awe and danger of their chosen field. During their many TV appearances, we also see the inevitable creation of star personas as the Kraffts (particularly Maurice) built an uncontainable screen version of themselves as fiery daredevils and lovers: a married couple as wild and dangerous as the thing they studied.

As the form of Fire of Love tries to replicate the ethos embodied by the Kraffts, it also offers a lot of information about volcanoes and how they work. Building on the duo’s work, the documentary streamlines their research and builds momentum as their focus transitions from the study of red to grey volcanoes. Through the voice and films of the Kraffts, we understand the critical difference in the types of volcanoes and why the pair’s study inevitably led them down a far more dangerous path. 

In structuring Fire of Love, the filmmakers made the crucial choice to explain in the first act that the Kraffts died in the early 1990s while studying an active volcano. It adds crucial context to the calculated risk the couple takes and how their work evolves over two decades. While early on in their study, they’re enamoured by the power and beauty of the volcano, in their later years, they become increasingly invested in applying their knowledge to prevent human death. Instead of falling into an Icarus trap, they willingly sacrifice themselves for a greater cause.

Fire of Love Katia and Maurice Krafft
Katia and Maurice Krafft

Fire of Love feels very much indebted to the playful style of the films of Agnes Varda, mainly through July’s narrative tone. It’s a movie that reflects the main subject’s sense of adventure and exploration. Since Maurice was the more outspoken couple in interviews, July’s voice captures the unspoken. It also reflects in some way the voice of the director, Sara Dosa, and the film’s idiosyncratic (though by no means experimental) construction.

Already amassing strong reviews and (for a documentary) some box-office success, it’s elementary to see why the story of the Kraffts has resonated with audiences: they’re passionate, in love and work to make the world a better place. The filmmaking is fun and playful but never loses touch with the danger and risk of studying volcanoes. The images are magnificent and awe-inspiring, drawing you into a world that most of us would otherwise not be privy to. Above all else, it’s a movie that treats our existence on Earth as beautiful, because it’s finite. Our insignificance does not render us invisible or useless but affords us incredible power. ■

Fire of Love, directed by Sara Dosa

Fire of Love is currently screening in Montreal theatres.

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