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Sundance 2022 Review: Fire of Love – “There is plenty of spectacle to delight”

A still from Fire of Love by Sara Dosa, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

“Loving the Earth also helps us to love each other,” said director Sara Dosa while introducing her documentary Fire of Love.  This film explores both of those things.  In fact, it has a little bit of everything – science, love, humanity and thrilling first hand imagery of volcanos all rolled into one.

Filmmaker Miranda July (Kajillionaire) narrates the story of Maurice and Katia Krafft, two married volcanologists that study active volcanoes.  When they were young, they lived just 20 km from each other in Alsace region of France.  When she was a rebellious little girl Katia convinced her parents to take her to Mt. Etna in Italy, when Maurice was young his parents took him to Stromboli.  Their first loves, volcanoes, were solidified and not even upon meeting and loving each other did that devotion waver.

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Once married, the two decided not to have children and instead continue their scientific work.  Katia was a geochemist who revelled in detail, taking still photos of their every move.  Maurice was a geologist who needed the big picture, documenting each adventure on film.  Their media was saved so they could study the things that happen too quickly in real life, like the parabolic arcs of volcanic bombs (projectiles of molten rock).  After witnessing a horrific aftermath of the eruption of a grey, or what they called a “killer,” volcano they looked at how they could help people protect themselves.  Their work would eventually create a film that educated people on the risks of volcanic eruption and the hazards around active volcanoes, saving countless lives.

Sadly, on June 3, 1991, while observing a volcanic eruption of Mount Unzen in Japan, the couple perished, along with 41 others.  They did so next to each other, doing what they loved, a risk they both know was always there.  The love they shared for their scientific explorations, but also for each other is laced all the way through Dosa’s beautiful tribute. Those that are prone to liking nature documentaries will likely be particularly enamoured with this one, but even for the casual viewer, there is plenty of spectacle to delight.

Considering the Kraffts were never without their cameras, Dosa must have had a plethora of footage and photography to meld into this wonderful collage, and she fills the 93 minutes of Fire of Love‘s run time with not only incredible images of bubbling and erupting magma or ash clouds spreading through the air, but also plenty of moments between the two scientists themselves.  They’re particularly endearing, though it helps also that the pair, but especially Maurice, made the rounds doing television interviews and were particularly charismatic with an excellent sense of humour.  Though the film has a couple of moments where it crawls a little, it certainly is never dull.

Fire of Love benefits from a few beautiful animation sequences, and its exceptional sound design/mix that during this online watch thundered through my home (honestly my dog hated this part so if you have a sound-sensitive pooch maybe put them away for this one).  It is awe-inspiring to hear and see just how powerful nature can be; to feel like you’re so close you can almost touch it.  In fact, the Krafft’s did touch some lava while suited up – do not try at home.  Their comfort level being close to all these potentially deadly and destructive forces is sometimes confounding to the average person like me, but a testament to the Krafft’s dedication to, and love for, the places they called home – the volcanoes.

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