French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft, leading figures in the specialized study of volcanoes, are profiled in director Sara Dosa’s new documentary Fire of Love, which comes to the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival this year after sparking heated enthusiasm at Sundance. The film will see wide release in Czech cinemas from July 14 courtesy of distributor Aerofilms.
Katia and Maurice Krafft were born 25 kilometers apart from each other in France’s Alsace region, and chance encounters with active volcanoes imparted on them a lifelong obsession. They would meet during student protests in the 1960s, fall in love, and marry. The couple’s passion would lead them to become two of the world’s most preeminent volcanologists during the 70s and 80s.
In lists of the most dangerous professions, volcanology ought to prominently feature at the top. You walk up to the edge of an active volcano, peer inside, and you might as well be looking into the depths of Hell and at your own potential demise.
As is repeatedly underscored during Fire of Love, volcanology is not an exact science: researchers do not know when a volcano will erupt, or how large the explosion will be, or what precise areas will be affected. As the Kraffts gather data to better understand volcanoes and make these kinds of estimates, they must get closer and closer to a precarious edge.
Apart from a few brief animated sequences and media appearances from the lead couple, Fire of Love has been assembled entirely using footage Katia and Maurice Krafft captured through their excursions to hundreds of volcanoes across the world over more than two decades.
Throughout Fire of Love, we see hypnotic images of swirling lava and billowing clouds of smoke, but also bear witness to the imitate human story of the pair behind (and often in front of) the camera. Maurice uses a pan to fry an egg on the volcanic rocks they travel over, and the two both don metallic suits to protect themselves from volcanic bombs, fragments of rocks shot hundreds of meters into the air.
Narration from Miranda July tells the story of the Kraffts as their footage fills the screen. Fire of Love tells their story with intimacy and efficiency, though that story travels along a straight line; the real treasure here is the invaluable footage captured by the Kraffts, which transports the viewer to some of the most dangerous natural locations across the world.
A recurring theme in Fire of Love is the greater and greater peril the pair place themselves in as they advance their research. The risks seem almost playful at first – Maurice rides a rubber boat on an acid lake in Java – but the danger slowly becomes more apparent as they approach deadlier volcanoes.
Was it all worth it? During their career, the Kraffts were motivated by the sudden eruption of Mt. Saint Helen’s in 1980, which resulted in the death of a friend and colleague, and the 1985 eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz in Colombia, which killed 23,000 after authorities ignored warnings to evacuate from researchers.
Volcanic eruptions have long been one of the deadliest threats to mankind, but the research collected by Katia and Maurice Krafft and other volcanologists helps us better understand them and the risks they carry. Fire of Love is a touching, even cathartic ode to Katia and Maurice Krafft, and an invaluable document of their lifelong passion.