Sara Dosa’s documentary about two volcanologists in love will have you falling in love with her film.
Katia Conrad and Maurice Krafft grew up in Alsace, France and fell in love at nearly the exact same time, twice over. First, they fell in love with volcanoes, and then they fell in love with each other. Sara Dosa’s new documentary about the power couple volcanologists, Fire of Love uses Dosa’s exquisite prose, the Kraffts’ own footage, and Miranda July’s narration to bring their love to life on screen.
As soon as the film begins, we know how it will end. It opens with footage shot the day before the Kraffts would be killed in Japan’s Mount Uzen eruption in 1991. But the film never becomes a tragedy: it is a love story in every conceivable way. The love between two strange scientists, and their love of the earth, life, and humanity.
Thanks to the thousands of hours of footage Maurice left behind and the thousands of photographs taken by Katia, Dosa has a rich library of material to pull from. For a geologist and geochemist, it all comes off as strikingly extraterrestrial.
In one scene, Katia stands in a silver protective suit and dons a giant domed helmet that makes her more like a rocket than an astronaut, let alone a scientist. Maurice playfully tosses a rock at her head, which bounces off and disappears. Their joy is palpable as they stand on scorched earth, closer to the raw power and danger of the volcano than 99% of people will ever be — it’s mesmerizing. Maurice’s close-up shots of lava flows, rushing and bubbling at temps in the thousands of degrees, are equal parts stunning and baffling.
The soundtrack heavily features Nicolas Godin (part of the duo Air; The Virgin Suicides), whose music lends it all a dreamy quality. Instead of viewing these eruptions as hellfire, it encourages the audience to view them the way the Kraffts do. Dangerous, yes. But also beautiful mechanisms of creation. Dosa’s soundtrack (intercut with French pop tunes) helps transform what could be horrifying into something stunning.
When you add in Miranda July’s (Kajillionaire, Me and You and Everyone We Know) performance of Dosa’s poetic prose, it practically begs the audience to fall in love with the Kraffts, the world, and yes, the film itself. But it’s not just Dosa’s script that’s poetic, it’s the volcanologists words as well. Maurice ponders at one point, “Maybe you need a certain philosophy of existence to take on these volcanic monsters . . . A kamikaze existence in the beauty of volcanic things.”
Fire of Love’s penchant for the lyrical over the scientific calls to mind the work of Werner Herzog. Despite the fact that he made his own volcano documentary, Into the Inferno, in 2016 (it even features the Kraffts), Dosa’s film actually seems to have a little more in common with Lessons of Darkness. In fact, it’s almost its inverse. In Lessons, Herzog decontextualizes the Kuwaiti oil fields post–Gulf War, exploring the horrors of man with narration that’s written from the POV of an alien observer. But rather than use literary tools to highlight destruction, Fire of Love uses them to keep creation in the forefront of the viewers mind. Instead of rejecting Romanticism as Herzog so fervently does, it embraces it.
In Fire of Love, tragedies don’t define life. What grows and comes out of them does. Volcanoes erupt, explode, destroy and yet… they also reshape maps, leaving islands in their wake. New lands ready for new growth. The tragedy of Katia and Maurice’s deaths don’t define them, either. The knowledge they left behind, the passion they inspired, and the lives their work has saved is their legacy.
Fire of Love opens in limited release on July 6th.