Review: Fire of Love Chronicles Great Science and a Great Love Story
There is something about the reddish-orange hue of flowing lava, as it swallows up everything in its path, that warms my heart. It’s as mesmerizing as it is terrifying, and I could stare at it for hours. So too could the internationally known subjects of director Sara Dosa’s documentary Fire of Love, Katia and Maurice Krafft, who met and fell in love decades ago thanks to their mutual admiration for the power and mysteries surrounding volcanoes. Together, they became the foremost vulcanologists thanks to their documentation (via photos and moving pictures), their fearlessness (as they walked about as close as any humans have ever gotten to the active portions of volcanoes), and their tireless research. Their ultimate goal was to save human life by being able to predict eruptions, but as they make clear, volcanoes are like lighting a fuse to a bomb without knowing exactly how long the fuse is.
Fire of Love not only documents the Kraffts’ work. but shows how they became celebrities in their field, primarily because they were a handsome couple who were as playful as they were informative during their interviews and lectures. It didn’t hurt that their footage was unrivaled at the time, and even seeing some of it today, it takes your breath away as it captures the scope and scale of volcanic destruction and power. The unsung hero of the movie is the dramatic, almost whispery, narration provided by filmmaker Miranda July, whose approach to her readings is both sultry and foreboding, as if she’s always reminding us that this couple died on the job in 1991 while staked out waiting for Japan’s Mount Unzon to erupt (which it did).
Taking some of its storytelling cues from French New Wave cinema (the couple were French), director Dosa never forgets that this couple was unique because they were truly in love, and the fact that they shared a common interest in this dangerous work only made them closer. They describe walking toward the mouth of a volcano at one point, her walking behind him because he was much larger than she was, knowing that if he didn’t break through the ground where he walked, she wouldn’t either. He tended to wander around a site, likely looking for the best camera angles, while she frequently stopped to notice details about a location, and somehow these two distinct approaches to science served them as a pair.
That being said, Fire of Love is so visually stunning that you could turn the volume off completely and enjoy the film almost as much. But why would you want to miss this touching love story? In a way, you can see the way these exotic settings and mysterious explorations seduced this couple into a lifestyle that would ultimately kill them, but I believe even they would say that, considering their legacy, it was worth it. This is one of the most memorable documentaries I’ve see in quite some time.
Fire of Love is now playing in theaters.
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Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.