A true found footage documentary that could also be easily labeled as a natural disaster film or even an offbeat love story—only this is real and doesn’t rely on special effects or actors pretending to play subjects. Fire of Love attempts to make dramatic impact out of an eccentric married couple that is obsessed with molting lava, magma, and exploding volcanoes, which seems like a narrative out of a Wes Anderson film (think The Life Aquatic with Steve Zizou but about volcanoes). Yet the latest enthralling documentary by Sara Dosa (The Edge of Democracy) has told a dramatically effective story by utilizing all of the found footage of a volcanologist married couple while writing some beautiful prose within its soft-spoken narration told so charmingly and powerfully by performance artist/filmmaker Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know, Kajillionaire).
Dosa’s latest documentary chronicles Katia and Maurice Kraft’s, a French married couple duo that were not only volcanologists, but were filmmakers, authors, and activists for volcano communities and towns to have evacuation plans prepared in case of a mass eruption. Their work began in the late 1960s when they met by chance at a park and discovered they had mutual interests and passions in volcanoes. Their work ended in 1991 during a mission to Mt. Unzen, which ended up severely erupting, wiping out Katia and Maurice, along with their crew. Being a volcanologist is a very dangerous field of science and profession, and Paul and Josephine were so determined about their risks and committed to their field that they decided to not have children.
Told through striking imagery that never once uses interviews or modern commentary on how volcanology has evolved, Dora’s documentary relies all on the 8mm and 16mm stock footage and photos that Katia, Maurice, and their crew shot in the course of their years. The footage is quite astounding as you ponder just how Dora got her hands on the material first over Werner Herzog. We see visually arresting moments of not only volcanoes brewing, erupting, or rivers of lava flowing, but we also get astounding underwater footage of the lava hitting the ocean floor as it transitions right to a mafic rock.
July’s narration also helps create the tone of the film, that helps capture the offbeat spirt of the Kraft’s, who easily come across as Jacques Costeau types but with vulcanology instead of oceanography. They are very persistent and passionate as well, not only do they survey, study, and research volcanoes and lava, but they make documentaries, and they use the footage to persuade local government officials to take volcanoes seriously in their communities. They are also authors and photographers as Maurice edits and revises the books and Katia handles the logistical sides of their books and films. They even did media tours and became a media sensation in France for their fearless duties.
The remarkable beauty of Fire of Love is that Dora explores how the Krafts’ love for volcanoes stemmed from humanism rather than spectacle, nature, or wonder. Not only does she examine the spontaneity and chaos of volcanoes, but she draws parallels between how volcanoes are much like war. We see footage of cities in ruins in the aftermath of WWII, and then we see footage of a volcano erupting, with crosscuts to bombs in North Vietnam and comparisons to the Hirashima bombing. We see protests of war in the film too, as far too many innocent civilians have died from volcanoes as well. The Kraft’s end up using the power of the image in hopes of communities’ being able to evacuate sooner to prevent innocent civilians from dying from volcanic mud slides and eruptions while they become martyrs themselves, all in the goal of achieving greater knowledge and preparation that is greater than themselves.
There are even more visual surprises throughout the film, and while we never fully understand the Kraft’s marriage and relationship with one another, it is clear through July’s narration and Dora’s script how their true love was through their shared passions. Long before the end, it is evident that documentary is far less about volcanoes as it is a questioning of how humans view nature so romantically. This is where the Herzogian themes kick in, as the images of volcanoes serve as metaphors, showing how the Kraffs’ passion and love for the volcanoes is indeed a form of fire, and how the natural world is both fascinating and endangering; no matter how close humans think they can get to nature, they can easily be destroyed by its inevitable outcome, as nature can be both a creator and destroyer.
There will be no doubt that Fire of Love will remain one of the most impressive documentaries of the year. With that, the film unravels, in awe-inspiring detail with the footage, the nearly incomprehensible rigors of wanting to get near hot lava and being near volcanoes, and evolves into something made of activism, humanism, and principles. The documentary even comes across as an adventure and a journey into curiosity. Even with the material, the film never feels strained, as the Kraft’s make compelling subjects infused with emotional depth and human endurance.
Fire of Love is now showing in Limited Theaters.