Filmmaker Sara Dosa's fourth directorial outing, Fire of Love, is lively and visceral. The film follows Maurice and Katia Krafft, two French volcanologists who pioneered the media and artistic outreach of the field through the 1970s and ’80s. While its premise may initially come across as just another nature documentary, what “Fire of Love” really boils down to is a love story: the love between two young academics eager to explore the world, and the love between those scientists and their dangerous field of study – volcanoes.
The film begins by spoiling itself – Maurice and Katia will die on June 3, 1991, as they investigate their final volcano. While I usually find fault with films that do this, I think Fire of Love uses the spoiler to its advantage. It gets the viewer invested in the lives of these two people despite knowing their eventual fate. From there, we see the pair meet and form an incredibly strong bond around their love of nature’s most dangerous beauty.
Maurice and Katia’s relationship is real and powerful. They aren’t perfect – Katia worries for Maurice, who often forgets his own mortality in pursuit of the best shot. And that’s really where this film shows its greatest strength: the visuals. Dosa relies entirely on archival footage, with either the couple in interviews or Maurice’s video camera, with which he became a documentarian in his own right. The couple’s main goal in creating their videos was to show people how volcanoes ought to be respected, but they have the added benefit of showing just how close the couple came to the belly of the beast.
In the end, the Kraffts end up seeking out one volcano too many. In an effort to survey whether one will erupt and put a region of people in danger, they venture too close and are killed by the crashing cloud of volcanic ash. All that remains of their escapade are a camera and a watch, stopped at the time of their death, side by side. After years of spreading awareness via film and pictures, their work saved many lives when their warnings were heeded by those in charge.
Fire of Love is wrought with emotion. Maurice and Katia are extremely charismatic on screen, relating to the audience like the warm couple we all know, except for the fact that these friendly folks chase active volcanoes. Every scene builds up our connection to them, until it crescendos beautifully in the final scenes with their untimely and tragic deaths.
The film’s narrative strength is emotion, but it is even more readily aided by the visuals. Maurice was no professional filmmaker, but over the years, developed a talent for finding the most interesting images to capture. Dosa does a great job of editing together these classic nature documentary shots with narration and engaging animations to weave a powerful visual narrative, evocative of the French New Wave, which I’m sure was no mistake.
If I were to nitpick at all, some of the music choices can seem cheesy. I know that I've heard one of the songs on either the Discovery Channel or a Ford Commercial. That's a common trend of nature documentaries, though, and it doesn't take anything away from the remarkable story at the core. All in all, Fire of Love is incredibly powerful. If you enjoy documentaries, love stories, or beautiful imagery, I encourage you to check it out.