The visually gorgeous Vulkan documentary Fire of Love chronicles a great obsession and might even make that obsession your own. In my case, it didn’t have to work terribly hard. Already a budding volcano lover, at age 8 I decided I had never seen anything more beautiful than the lava geysers raining down on Kilauea, a hyperactive Hawaiian monster that I soon declared my favorite volcano in the world. (It was one of several contenders.) I wasn’t much older when I learned that one of Kilauea’s longest-recorded eruptions actually began the day I was born, one of those fun coincidences that felt spooky at the time felt prophetic.
My 8-year-old self, no less than the one I am now, would have been blown away by the majestic imagery in Fire of Love that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible. (The movie hits theaters this week; it will be available on Disney+ later this year.) The images were filmed by intrepid French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft, who followed their shared passion to the end (or at least the fringes). ) followed. of the earth, where the crust cracks and rock slides against molten rock.
Katia, a geochemist, and Maurice, a geologist, met as students in 1966, married in 1970, and spent the rest of their lives visiting active volcanoes around the world, walking directly to flowing lava flows and smoking craters, and filming what they saw .
They are the subjects of this film and, to a large extent, its authors. Beginning with a gorgeous fire-and-ice prologue in which we see the Kraffts pushing a not-too-reliable truck up a snow-covered Icelandic mountainside, Fire of Love draws on hundreds of hours of 16mm footage that they have been filming over more than two decades.
And like a scientist making the most of an incomplete but priceless fossil record, director Sara Dosa (“The Seer and the Unseen”) carves out a clear and compelling narrative path through the Kraffts’ archive. Their unifying tools include Miranda July’s poetic narrative, Lucy Munger’s imaginative animated segments, Patrice LeBlanc’s meticulous sound design, and most importantly, the driving editing by Erin Casper and Jocelyne Chaput, which won an award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. (Casper and Chaput are also credited with writing the film, along with Dosa and Shane Boris.)
Fire of Love therefore wants us to see the world and its wonders as Katia and Maurice Krafft saw them, benefit from their know-how and share in their wonder. (The emotional surges of Brian Eno’s The Big Ship and Ennio Morricone’s The Ecstasy of Gold help draw our awe, as does an exquisite score by Nicolas Godin of French duo Air.)
As the title makes clear, the film also seeks to cast the Kraffts as well-matched leads in a most unlikely love story that finds its greatest consummation in breathtaking lava and ash eruptions.
Love’s Fire is a romantic comedy at times, based on the affable, TV-friendly chemistry between the smirking, gregarious Maurice and the petite, bird-like Katia. In the end, when it comes to the deaths of his subjects in the 1991 eruption of Mt. Unzen in Japan, the story has morphed into something darker, though the Kraffts themselves might not have called it a tragedy.
Her lifelong devotion to “a kamikaze existence in the beauty of volcanic things” feels at once radical and oddly familiar in light of the recent spate of documentaries about adventure seekers and extreme athletes like “The Rescue” and “Free Solo.” (Plenty of Werner Herzog’s films spring to mind, including his 2016 volcano documentary Into the Inferno, which includes a section on the Kraffts.)
Like some of the subjects of these earlier works, Katia and Maurice pursued their vocation with the intensity of true believers and an undisguised impatience with anyone or anything else that might take up their time.
“We no longer see the world with all its mediocrities,” Katia can be heard saying at one point. Her husband shared her view of volcanoes as a superior society, a sanctuary from the boredom of human cares, but he also had a frivolous streak that even she missed.
In one of the film’s more harrowing episodes, shot in Indonesia in 1971, Maurice incurs Katia’s wrath by sailing a rubber dinghy into a vast lake of highly concentrated sulfuric acid. The footage of this adventure is exquisite and unsettling, especially when the camera pulls back to show Maurice and a colleague in their vulnerable little boat, shrouded in a lake’s toxic fog that could swallow them alive.
Like many of the other images here – including a shot of Katia straddling the rim of a crater and then arcing downward into the billowing smoke below – this scene exhibits compositional elegance and an intuitive sense of visual grandeur.
Despite this, Maurice says at one point: “I’m not a filmmaker. I’m a hiking volcanologist forced to make films to hike.” It may have been him; To finance their many expeditions, he and Katia found every possible source of income, published books with their photographs and toured the lecture series. But the visions unleashed in “Fire of Love” suggest they took their art as seriously as their science.
July’s narrative works beautifully with the images, often drawing our attention to specific details within the frame and questioning the motives and circumstances that may have produced them.
In the absence of conventional talking heads, her thoughtful, melancholic phrasing achieves a lyricism that draws on a classic tradition of French documentary film. She fits well into this story, given the wistful romance and inquiring, adventurous spirit of her own work as an actress, artist, and filmmaker. She also steers the film through a crucial tonal and moral transition.
“Volcanoes must destroy in order to create, but must this unruly cycle cost human lives?” asks July, articulating the Kraffts’ horror at the deaths caused by the eruptions of Mt. St. Helens in 1980, and particularly Nevado del Ruiz in the 1980s in 1985 that killed more than 20,000 people in Armero, Colombia.
Her subsequent determination to sound the alarm at trouble spots around the world, to use her scientific authority and knowledge to save lives, gave new meaning to her own life and death; it also sets Dosa’s film apart from some of these other nature-loving daredevil documentaries.
Katia and Maurice Krafft’s fire of obsession consumed them in no small part because it ultimately restored their kinship with humanity.
‘Fire of Love’
Valuation: PG, for thematic material, including some disturbing images, and a brief smoke
Duration: 1 hour, 33 minutes
To play: Begins July 6 at AMC Sunset 5, Los Angeles
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-07-05/fire-of-love-review-volcano-documentary ‘Fire of Love’ review: Science, volcanoes and romance erupt