Sara Dosa’s reflective documentary offers breathtaking spectacle but is let down by an unstable narrative approach
Maurice and Katia Krafft died how they lived: at the mercy of volcanoes. Charting the love story of the geologist French couple and their infatuated fascination with volcanic eruptions, Fire of Love draws symbolism of human emotion through awe-inspiring visuals of raging natural disasters. The most spectacular, nail-biting imagery, however, does not alleviate an unstable narrative approach that fails to live up to the visual feast.
He was a geologist, she was a geochemist, born twenty kilometres apart but not meeting until later in life. They shared the Italian Mount Etna as their first love but while Katia was detail orientated and ritualistic in her exploration, Maurice was spontaneous and daring with his desire to always get closer and uncover more. Like two tectonic plates colliding, their pairing made waves in the research field and they began educating governments on the dangers of volcanic eruptions.
While the couple appeared previously in Werner Herzog's 2016 documentary Into the Inferno, Fire of Love is constructed solely around the archive footage Maurice and Katia left behind. The philosophy of volcanology is the motivating factor behind these exquisite shots; the science of observation lectures that the closer you can get, the better. The couple took this to heart and ventured with their cameras to capture some of the most staggering close-up volcanic imagery ever documented.
The sheer grandiosity of these stunning but deadly volcanoes makes for an enriching viewing experience. Splatters of volcanic lava paint the sky while rivers of magma run off the volcano’s side in jaw-dropping shots that are as terrifying as they are mesmerising. Garbed in metallic protection resembling spacesuits, Maurice and Katia appear like aliens as they dance on the edge of a volcano at sunset.
While the shots are wondrous, the couple often appear like mere silhouettes against these burning backdrops. Balancing its National Geographic cinematic identity with the unignorable emotional layer of this posthumous film, Fire of Love comes across like a visual art piece, the tension dissipating due to the documentary’s flimsy structural integrity.
Miranda July provides a voice-over narration that spans the documentary which is at times poetic (“in this fire two lovers made a home”) but occasionally borders on cringe-inducing. It’s rare to crave a talking head in a documentary, yet due to Fire of Love’s sparse narrative, the story of Maurice and Katia might have benefited from some input from the couple’s friends and colleagues as to fully contextualise the pair’s legacy, personally and professionally.
Fire of Love was screened as part of the Sundance Film Festival London 2022. It will be released in UK cinemas on 29 July.Where to watch