The pair often come across as explorers in a sci-fi adventure; On an expedition in 1968, we see the Kraffts wearing heat-resistant silver suits and metal helmets to protect themselves from the elements. As they venture perilously close to flaming red “volcanic bombs,” they look like performers at a site-specific, ecological fairground, whose massive, abstract backdrops burst into flames all around them.
There’s a method to her madness. Katia, a geochemist, and Maurice, a geologist, complemented each other personally and professionally. We watch as the pair carefully scale an inhospitable mountain to achieve their goal: a breathtaking view of the exploding Earth. Isn’t that love, sharing the best and worst the world has to offer, even if the worst is shooting hot lava into the air? As if reacting to the Earth’s high temperatures, their personal fire is also evident: They’re crazy and crazy about each other.
With its obsessive, death-defying protagonists, “Feuer der Liebe” seems like a vision of Werner Herzog – like “Grizzly Man” with bubbling magma instead of hungry bears. (In fact, Krafft footage appeared in the director’s 2016 feature film, Into the Inferno.) But Dosa’s tone, while akin to Herzog’s “ecstatic truth,” is more whimsical, and that’s driven in part by narrator Miranda July. The filmmaker, actor and artist’s voice has a childlike yet knowing quality that is sometimes distracting, but more often than not it suits such rapturous lines as, “What is it, you ask, that makes the heart of the earth beat, its blood flows.” ?
The narration lends the atmosphere of a broken fairy tale to “Fire of Love,” especially as July tells the story of how the Kraffts grew up about 12 miles apart in Alsace, France. An animated collage shows a lithographic view of the couple’s 19th-century hometown, tectonic plates moving beneath their homes as if the earth were inexorably pulling the couple together.
The archival footage is exciting enough, but editors Erin Casper and Jocelyne Chaput, who co-wrote the screenplay with producer Shane Boris, cleverly use split screens, circular stencils, and other visual effects, varying the rhythm just enough to make this world work even more magical.
Fire of Love plays out like a magical romance at first, a dance on the fringes of a global-scale incendiary theater. Still, this is a fleeting backdrop for love. As the narrative points out, high-altitude storms “obliterated all bearings.” That disorientation is part of the thrill (for the Kraffts and the viewer), a nice metaphor for romantic chemistry. If the concept seems too intrusive, the natural spectacle of flowing magma and burned terrain is endlessly fascinating. One could spend hours watching Katia and Maurice stroll through this alien landscape to Nicolas Godin’s menacing, throbbing music, complemented by a soundtrack that not only features electronic artists like Brian Eno and Air, but also a swinging love song from the 1960s by French-Italian singer Dalida.
With a mixtape like this, portions of “Fire of Love” feel like the geological equivalent of waves crashing on Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in “From Here to Eternity.”
The Kraffts’ work also puts them in touch with the gentler side of nature, and images of the couple frolicking with sea lions and squirrels can seem like paradise. But unfortunately, her work also brought her close to what residents near a volcano in Zaire describe as “the portal to hell.” While the first hour of this “fire” smolders like an unusual domestic drama, decisive catastrophes literally bring the lovers down to earth. The Kraffts lost a colleague in the Mount St. Helens explosion that rocked the Pacific Northwest in 1980, and the 1985 eruption of Nevado del Ruiz in Colombia killed more than 20,000 people.
The Kraffts were bound to be killed doing what they loved. Earlier in her career, Katia declared when addressing the dangers of her work, “I follow him because if he’s going to die, I’d rather be with him.” Whether you find that sentiment sweet or traceable, Fire of Love delivers perhaps the ultimate consummation of marriage.
PG. In the theaters of the region. Contains mature thematic material, including some disturbing visuals and brief smokes. In English and French with some subtitles. 93 minutes.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/movies/2022/07/19/fire-of-love-movie-review/ The documentary “Fire of Love” introduces the married couple of volcanologists Maurice and Katia Krafft.