When the unnatural destruction of France during World War II subsided, Katia and Maurice Krafft stepped out of the flames. Although they would not meet for another two decades, the couple experienced a mutual childhood ignition — the love of volcanoes sparked that within them.
Brilliantly juxtaposing the unnatural flames of human war with grandiose lava flows and bubbling cauldrons of hot mud, “Fire of Love,” National Geographic’s most complete exploration of the human condition, intersperses gorgeous graphic explanations of geological phenomena with films made by the Kraffts during their adventures. My mouth gaped in awe for 90 minutes straight. The film’s stars are also its creators: Maurice and Katia were world-renowned volcanologists and humble yet incredible filmmakers.
Often stepping too close to the lava and constantly dreaming about riding his canoe down a lava flow, Maurice, alongside his film camera, is the visionary, capturing dreams for the world to see. Between the more serious topics covered in Sara Dosa’s documentary, Maurice’s “dad jokes” add a comedic lightness that made the viewing experience less overwhelmingly intense and much more fun.
Katia, less than half Maurice’s size, is the true genius, capturing precise stills of the red, yellow and gray mountains that draw the couple ever closer. Although Maurice jokes that the couple often “erupts” at each other, their love is evident.
Even as they both note that television appearances, books and films are nothing but the easiest way to pay the bills when they would rather be near the fire, the Kraffts’ filmmaking truly blurs the line between art and science. Utilizing a Wes Anderson-esque God’s Eye perspective, Maurice and Katia zoom out to show geologic scale and zoom in to show their volcanologist instruments at work.
The documentary, however, does not delve too deeply into the science. As a history major, I was satisfied with the narrator’s calm explanation of plate tectonics and the beautiful visuals that went along with it. But “Fire of Love” is a romance through and through. Simultaneously, it captures Maurice and Katia’s love for each other and their mutual love for the Earth. Possibly disappointing the scientists, though, volcanology methods remain a mystery to me even after two watches.
And when the Kraffts are not there to capture an eruption, director Sara Dosa does an even better job of demonstrating volcanic scale. Katia and Maurice are stuck in France when Mt. St. Helens erupts in 1980, so they could provide no footage, but Dosa compiles a beautiful and horrifying collage: a journalist abandons their camera in a nearby village as ash hurls towards it; a hiker 50 kilometers away photographs an ash cloud that obscures their entire field of vision; and a villager hundreds of kilometers further witnesses the mushroom cloud that ensues mere minutes after eruption.
Witnessing those images in turn, I couldn’t help but gape. In all honesty, the images are beautiful, but I felt almost guilty experiencing awe at such a destructive event. Dosa soon brought me back to reality. For how awe-inspiring the documentary is, it is not naively romantic.
Katia and Maurice are not religious, nor are they fond of humanity as a natural force. If it were possible to eat rocks, they may never come down from the volcano back into society.
“We have but this one short life before we return to the ground,” they say. But Katia and Maurice are not nihilistic nor egoistic. When Nevado del Ruiz erupts in Columbia and kills 25,000 people, they spring into action, creating films and action plans to inspire evacuation efforts in other volcano zones. This time, governments listen to the volcanologists, saving thousands of future lives.
Of course, Katia and Maurice know that their short life will come to an end, and it soon does. In the 1991 Japanese Mt. Unzen eruption, the lovers return to the ground next to each other, buried under a flow of lava, forever enshrined in the flames that created them. However cliché it may seem, I stepped out of DPAC feeling more grounded, more willing to search.
Title: “Fire of Love”
Starring: Maurice and Katia Krafft
Director: Sara Dosa
If you like: “The Alpinist,” “Free Solo,” “Moonrise Kingdom”
Shamrocks: 5 out of 5