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Film Review: Fire of Love

1 August 22 words: Lewis Keech

Sara Dosa returns with another powerful documentary - this time telling the true story of two scientists who died doing what they loved, while they were in love... 

Director: Sara Dosa
Starring: Miranda July (narrator), Katia Krafft (self), Maurice Krafft (self)
Running time: 98 minutes

Charting the unorthodox lives and careers of Katia and Maurice Krafft, Fire of Love is a collection of archive footage and photography shot by the couple, supplemented by animations and narrations providing background information. The film focuses mainly on the relationship each of them felt to the Earth, which in turn seemed to inform the course of their own relationship. Despite declaring in one of the clips that they are atheist, this connection they have with the planet is a spiritual one; just as they had sprung from the Earth, so too do they return to it in the only way they know how, by witnessing a volcanic eruption.  

Katia and Maurice both grew up in the Alsace region near the French-German border, discovering their love of nature while at university. Maurice explains that they were particularly interested in volcanoes, at first Italy’s Etna and Stromboli, because to them they are such magnificent and powerful features of the landscape. Jetting off to far-flung locations must also have been an escape from growing up among the gloomy ruins of post-war Europe. 

The film blurs the lines between a scientific documentary and a love story in a convincing way. The beautifully-shot footage Maurice and others took of the eruptions and lava flows they witnessed, together with Katia’s stunning photography, is both scientifically fascinating and deeply intimate. They give us an insight into the volatility of the natural world, as well as the often volatile and unconventional nature of their relationship, thriving in some of the most perilous environments on Earth. I particularly liked the symmetrical shot of them in the silver protective suits prancing around against the fiery orange background, which is like something out of a Wes Anderson sci-fi film. It centres on the beauty of the natural world, as well as their highly unusual and sometimes comical way of life and aesthetic style. 

The film talks not just of the scientific advancements Katia and Maurice made in chemical geology and in volcanology, but of their eagerness to save human life

If I were to change anything, it would be the slow feel of the transitions between the archive footage and some of the editing. Although the narration is always interesting and informative, it sometimes feels as though it's delivered in too calm a way to be about volcanoes and destruction, and the running time threatens to lag behind at a slower pace than Krafft’s eventful lives. 

However, on the flip side, you could argue that the slow feel of the documentary adds to its interesting muses on time. Fire of Love reflects on the immediacy of volcanic eruptions, against the permanence of the Earth and the natural world, which mirrors the brevity of a human life compared to that of nature. Dosa teaches us especially that film is a way to capture and relive the brief length of time humans live on the planet, just like it can the eruption of a volcano. Katia and Maurice in turn say that they used film as a way of re-experiencing (or ‘stretching’) the volcanic events they witnessed in order to re-examine them. I feel like this is also secretly a way of re-living their own memories. 

The end of the movie is constructed in such a way as to pay homage to the legacy Katia and Maurice left behind. Rather than just being scientific and stoic, it is deeply sentimental. It talks not just of the scientific advancements Katia and Maurice made in chemical geology and in volcanology, but of their eagerness to save human life. 

They were more aware than most of the devastating consequences an eruption could have on human populations. The film talks about how after the 1985 Armero mudslides, which killed more than 23,000 people in rural Columbia, the Kraffts were part of a small scientific community calling for better evacuation measures around the world in the event of a volcanic eruption. It is a perhaps cruel and ironic twist of fate that Katia and Maurice died, arm-in-arm, in proximity of the eruption of Mount Unzen, Japan, in 1991. Nonetheless, the knowledge they collected and the awareness they raised in their non-fiction books and films gave global authorities a better understanding of the precautions they should take to protect their citizens before an eruption, most notably in the Philippines that same year, before the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. 

Fire of Love, while being quirky and often comical, is therefore a deeply moving and thought-provoking film you should definitely watch. While it is worth seeing on the big screen because its imagery is beautiful, its screenings are also limited - so if you can't catch it on the big screen, you can at least find it on National Geographic. 

Fire of Love is currently showing in select cinemas

Did you know? No contemporary interviews relating to the subject are used in this film. 

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