One of the most hotly anticipated documentaries of 2022 is Fire of Love. It’s from American director Sara Dosa and just launched in cinemas recently.
It explores the unusual relationship between volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft, whose marriage also included a love affair with lava and volcanoes.
Explore Volcanoes and Amore in Fire of Love
We knew of the Kraft couple thanks to the Savage Skies and Savage Planet TV series here in the UK, that was narrated by the one and only Sir Ian Holm.
But we didn’t know much more than their deaths in Japan. It’s no surprise the fate that befell the couple. Fire of Love makes that very clear from the start.
They died on Mount Unzen in Japan on June 3rd, 1991. Katia was 49, Maurice 45.
Maurice’s many journal entries over the years indicated he was happy to die young—rather burn out after an intense life over trundling into his 90s.
They left behind them a vast amount of video footage.
But amongst the extraordinary footage of volcanoes, there’s a story of two lives. One is Catherine Joséphine “Katia” Krafft (1942-1991) and her husband Maurice Paul Krafft (1946-1991).
Both were clearly charming, affable, and passionate about science.
From the ’60s onwards, they became famous across Europe as the eccentric volcanologist couple who’d go to great lengths to document volcanoes.
And there’s no denying there’s some truly remarkable footage in Fire of Love.
The Kraffts pushed the limits, getting as close as possible—they recorded everything, sometimes with the help of friends, to get some astonishing sights.
One of the standout elements is just how close the couple got. Sometimes they’re dressed up in alien foil suits to protect against the heat.
In time, they grew bolder and would get as close as possible before heat overwhelmed them. In fact, Katia Krafft’s cheeks seem to be permanently on the verge of blistering due to exposure to intense heat.
Experts in their field, during the ’70s and ’80s they produced many books and films to education the public and local governments.
And they documented many devastating eruptions, such as Mount St. Helens in May, 1980. So you can understand how dangerous the job of a volcanologist can be, this is how the volcano erupted. All in a matter of seconds.
There’s no denying the Kraffts put themselves in harms way. They were well aware of the potential consequences.
They were simply scientists doing what they loved, all for the greater good.
But that thrill seeker edge was certainly there, pushing them ever closer to get a glimpse of the beating heart of the Earth.
They were willing to admit what few people are; their puny insignificance in the grand scheme of things. Their momentary, brief lives were nothing compared to the vast expanses of time seen by volcanoes.
Able to see all, capable of destroying all. We often forget, even now one giant super volcano eruption could vault enough earth into the sky to blot out the Sun for months.
We’re truly at the mercy of these things.
The film is keen to flirt with existential philosophising like that. But it does seem overly keen to emulate (rather than build on) Werner Herzog’s canon of award-winning documentaries. Most notably with the outstanding, chilling Grizzly Man (2005).
It’s not much of a hindrance as that’s a brilliant enough foundation for any documentary. But if there’s any stumbling point with Fire of Love, it’s the narration.
Miranda July is the narrator. She’s also a director of indie, art house type films such as Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005) and Kajillionaire (2020).
It’s fair to say we’ve found most of her work annoying and pretentious. And her narration across Fire of Love is often annoying and pretentious. At one point she announces:
“Maurice loved Katia earnestly. And Katia loved Maurice earnestly. The volcanoes were indifferent.”
Yes. No kidding, love. Volcanoes aren’t renowned for sending out valentine’s day cards and all that.
It does take you out of the film quite a bit. On several occasions we stopped to think, “What are you talking about, woman?!” It’s often A level metaphor making and stating the obvious.
The OTT profundity vocalisations aside, director Sara Dosa directs the story with considerable verve. Even adding in flashes of beautiful animation when necessary.
Here she is with a brief description of her project.
We must say, it’s an excellent documentary. It’s out right now—go and see it in cinemas if it’s playing near you.
As a cinematic spectacle, it’s quite dazzling.
Like some ’70s sci-fi film that got it right despite budget and technological limitations. And yet it’s very real. Very human.
And at the heart of it is the charismatic, quirky couple who may have been gone for over 30 years, but Fire of Love confirms their status as legends of science.
The Fire Within: Herzog Tackles the Krafft Life Story
During our research, we discovered legendary documentary maker Werner Herzog HAS covered the same topic.
His films almost always examine humanity in extremes (see 1982’s Fitzcarraldo). The only surprise here is it’s taken him so long to get to the Krafft story, which is ideally suited to him.
In The Guardian’s August 2022 interview with Werner Herzog he had this to say about his worldview.
Question: What about harmony in your films? You seem Conradian, drawn to the heart of darkness. But are you also drawn to the light?
Herzog: That sounds too new age to me—could I use a different term? Sometimes, I’ve the feeling a film of mine has balance. It has a certain equilibrium that probably has something in common with harmony but which I can’t easily describe. But I make such statements because Timothy Treadwell, in Grizzly Man, was about the Disney-isation of wild nature, the romanticising of it. Quite often now, among those desperately trying to categorise me, there are people who claim I am a romanticist: I am not.
The Fire Within is a custom made topic for Herzog’s canon. His film launches in September 2022 down in London.
Just to note, it’s also not unusual to have two films about the same subject matter in quick succession. In 2016, there were two films about the life of Christine Chubbuck.
Additionally, right now there have been two films recently about the 2018 Thai cave rescue. There’s a 2021 document called The Rescue, plus Ron Howard’s film 13 Lives just launched in cinemas now.
Abnormal? Not really, when you think about the creative processes involved in film production.
Our favourite film critic, Dr. Mark Kermode, has previously said he’s surprised these creative clashes don’t happen more often.