Fire of Love: Volcanic romance that should be seen on largest possible screen

Moving, thrilling portrait of married volcano nuts, who first bonded over their love of Mount Etna

Fire of Love
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Director: Sara Dosa
Cert: None
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Miranda July, Katia and Maurice Krafft
Running Time: 1 hr 33 mins

Katia and Maurice Krafft are introduced on icy, inhospitable terrain, driving what could, at a distance, pass for a moon buggy.

The subjects of this arresting National Geographic documentary typically occupy spaces that look otherworldly and perilous. Often, they are specks against a sea of molten orange or plumes of unpredictable grey poisons.

For two decades, Katia and Maurice Krafft were volcanology’s power couple. Maurice, the more outgoing of the married pair, was a fixture on French talk shows and a documentary-maker; Katia — who, on TV, gamely continued to smile at her husband’s joke that there are few relationships between volcanologists because their romances are volcanic — produced beautifully curated photographic studies.

That dynamic is reflected in the extraordinary footage they captured during their careers. He is always moving; she is still and contemplative. He is apt to float a dinghy on a lake of sulphuric acid; she is somewhat more cautious, if frequently glimpsed standing only metres away from the rivers of lava her partner (genuinely) hopes to cascade down in a boat.

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To date, the Kraffts have featured in two documentaries by Werner Herzog: 2016′s Into the Inferno and the upcoming The Fire Within: Requiem for Katia and Maurice Krafft. Herzog sets the couple’s daring adventures to Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem and notes in his unmistakable fashion: “They were famous for capturing incredible images of volcanoes. But this meant that they had to get dangerously close to their subject. Too close.”

Miranda July’s warm, inquisitive narration over Sara Dosa’s profoundly moving film eschews editorialising in favour of wonderment.

Thrillingly recreated sounds play under spectacular images, as carefully filleted by editors Erin Casper and Jocelyne Chaput from more than 200 hours of archive footage.

The subjects are aware of the dangers. As Maurice notes, “It will kill me one day, but that doesn’t bother me at all.” Melted cassette logs are all that remain of a friend and colleague killed in the Mount St Helens blast of 1980.

The Kraffts, who first bonded over their love of Mount Etna, remain as committed to the cause of understanding volcanic hazards and triggers as they are to one another.

Their story makes for this year’s best documentary to date, and a film that demands to be seen on the largest possible screen.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic