One of the biggest critical darlings in film festivals like Sundance and Hot Docs, Sara Dosa’s Fire of Love tells the story of two Alsatian French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft. Katia is the couple’s geochemist and Maurice is the straight up geologist. To call them simply as volcanologists feels reductive since the film makes it feel like the Kraffts were innovators within the study. Dosa, with the help of Miranda July’s narration, contextualizes the kind of fame that they had and needed to have, spreading awareness about the geological phenomenon that they loved.
The film gets most of its material from the footage that Maurice takes as he’s literally meters close to the acid lakes. That or other things that people of his profession would encounter at the mouths of these volcanoes. There are many spectacular shots of him feet behind Katia, her back facing the camera. She puts her hand calmly in front of her face as she stands further away. She’s close to a hole in the earth spitting lava twice as tall as her. Viewers can feel the insane singularity that these two passionate people have through this footage. The put a lot of work into capturing all this footage.
As I previously wrote above, Dosa uses July as a narrator, which is one of the director’s more interesting choices. Embers leave a volcano at night as July talks Katia nor Maurice. About how neither of them can’t do this work without the other. The other reviews I’ve read shower Fire of Love with close to universal acclaim, the one person with nuanced critiques target her. Fire of Love is one of my rare Miranda July cinematic experiences. I don’t find her as grating as that one person thinks she is. She even highlights their activism, the ambivalence between loving volcanoes and keeping people safe from them.
Perhaps it’s the novelty of experiencing her, or perhaps it’s because cinema needs bold declarations like the ones she and Dosa make in Fire of Love. The film is just as good during its reverent, silent moments. It’s just as good when it uses helicopter footage as it does during medium shots or close-ups. What Dosa does here is to make her viewers understand what the Kraffts are learning. That the thing that they love is capable of destruction. The camera swoops down to the earth that surrounds Mount Saint Helens, the ash rendering everything around it lifeless. This is one of the films that reinforce the idea of nature’s cruelty.
I’m making Fire of Love seem nihilistic but it’s not. Dosa includes Maurice’s footage of people all over the world. People in the former Zaire or in the Ring of Fire living their lives. They do so despite of the dread of choosing the foot of a volcano as their home. There’s a part of me that wants to take marks off because of the way it talks about a specific eruption. Although in fairness, that eruption takes place weeks after the Kraffts’ deaths. That one thing, however, doesn’t lessen this couple’s legacy. Its musings on how fate brought them together is palatable. The same goes with its ghostly air, that some of the images we see are the last of this couple who loved each other.
Get tickets to Fire of Love playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.