Beauty inside

‘Fire of Love’ traces the romance and death of scientists chasing volcanoes

Published on: Amended:

Los Angeles (AFP) – French scientists Maurice and Katia Krafft were brought together, and ultimately killed, by their shared love of volcanoes.

Now the married couple are the subject of “Fire of Love,” a new film built from hours of dazzling, terrifying and sometimes offbeat footage they shot near — and even inside — craters in eruption.

Showing in a limited number of theaters in the United States, the documentary from National Geographic and prestigious independent distributor Neon (“Parasite”) is receiving rave reviews and generating early awards buzz.

Director Sara Dosa first came across the couple’s ‘spectacular imagery’ while researching another Icelandic volcano documentary – but was more drawn to the ‘love that shines just behind the goal, unlike everything else”.

For 25 years, the Kraffts have traveled the world together in search of active volcanoes, writing about 20 books and directing five feature films, as well as countless TV shows and lectures.

But they are perhaps best remembered today for their deaths side by side on Japan’s Mount Unzen volcano, which erupted in 1991 after nearly two centuries of slumber, sending up a deadly cloud of gas and ash surge on its eastern flank.

“Fire of Love” begins and ends with this tragic piece of information – but it spends most of its running time on the “love triangle” between the couple and their lifelong obsession.

“Once we really got to know them as people…and the fact that they were married and also seemed to be in love with the volcanoes – that’s when we thought, ‘Okay, we want to make a movie about these people,'” Dosa told AFP.

“We wanted to tell a sort of mythical love story told through the language of volcanoes,” she added.

“That’s what brought them together in the first place, and that was the propellant, the fuel of their relationship.”

“Careless Love”

While Maurice was the more outgoing and ostensibly thrill-seeking of the couple – he paddles an acidic lake and plots to kayak on an active lava stream – Katia was equally brave in the face of peril.

Their enthusiastic approach drew criticism from some of their scientific peers, but “I don’t think we ever found them reckless, quite honestly,” Dosa said.

“They eventually led a deeply meaningful life and died a meaningful death. And a big part of that was this pursuit of love,” she added.

For 25 years, Maurice and Katia Krafft have traveled the world together in search of active volcanoes, writing twenty books and directing five feature films, as well as countless television shows and conferences. JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN AFP/Dossier

“I’m sure a lot of people will say maybe it was reckless love, but for us it was their way of life.”

After witnessing the stunning 1980 eruption of Mount St Helens in the northwestern United States and the Nevado del Ruiz disaster that killed up to 25,000 Colombians five years later, the duo refocused their working to lobby governments for better evacuation planning.

“Since they were among the only people who really captured these images, they were uniquely positioned to do this advocacy work,” Dosa said.

“And that’s literally what they were trying to do when they died in the mountains in 1991.”

‘Balm’

As well as educating modern audiences about the couple’s work, Dosa hopes the film can remind viewers that the planet isn’t just “a resource to be tapped.”

“These kinds of stories about the liveliness, the sensitivity of the Earth, are all the more important in countering exploitation,” she said.

Doing the film during the pandemic and “having these guides, Katia and Maurice, teaching you how to navigate the unknown, and who knew how to reconcile fear – it was such a balm and a refuge for us”.

And then there’s the aesthetic beauty of the images themselves, full of glowing lava and alien volcanic landscapes, all captured in a distinctive style with “the characteristics of the French New Wave”.

“For example, in the cinematography, there were a lot of playful instant zooms, which reminded us of movies in France in the 60s and 70s,” she said.

“And their own writing—they wrote nearly 20 books—almost recalled the pompous, playful spirit of storytelling in Truffaut’s films.”

Dosa herself drew inspiration from this style, including the documentary’s breathless storytelling.

“One of the great narrative devices of the French New Wave was love triangle stories,” Dosa said.

“And for us, that was something that felt appropriate. Katia and Maurice really seemed to have a third party in their relationship – volcanoes.”