“It’s hard for volcanologists to live together – we erupt,” Maurice Krafft tells an interviewer about in “Fire of Love” when asked if there are any other volcanologist couples in the world like himself and Katia Krafft and drawing a blank. It isn’t unthinkable for colleagues working in close proximity to one another to form a bond beyond the job, but it is more difficult to imagine the circumstances necessary to bring together a fit as perfect as the Kraffts, complementary in the few contrasts they have — Katia’s a chemist and Maurice is a geologist — and equally invested in their shared belief that humanity is consistently disappointing them, seeing the start of the Vietnam War as they become adults in the late 1960s after growing up in the shadow of World War II in France, leaving them to immerse themselves in scientific study with the hope that their discoveries will shape future generations.
It is easy to see the appeal of the Kraffts for director Sara Dosa if you were lucky enough to catch her previous feature “The Seer and the Unseen,” in which she hiked through Iceland to find locals who embraced long-held myths of elves as a way of looking at an erosion of environmental protections. She works her magic once again with this enchanting romance awash in ‘60s French style, aptly envisioning the pair at its center as being no different than the natural wonders they examine, a bit unpredictable confluence of elements that words can’t entirely do justice to. Thankfully, the Kraffts left behind a substantial archive of their travels and Dosa and editors Erin Casper and Jocelyne Chaput are wise to lightly sprinkle in biographical details leaving an air of mystery around the Kraffts, playfully acknowledging uncertainty about such specifics as how the two first met – it could’ve been at a lecture at the University of Strasbourg or on a blind date, but what is known is that they could talk about Mt. Etna and Mt. Stromboli all night long.
Wryly but appropriately, many of the volcanoes the Kraffts visited get billed as co-stars in the opening credits to “Fire of Love” and indeed, the extraordinary footage that the couple collected and appears in pristine condition here deservedly takes up a large share of the spotlight, bursting with unreal colors and conveying that as much as the Kraffts were scientists, they were skilled filmmakers who could capture the power of what they experienced first-hand. The film raises some provocative questions in terms of image, asking how conscious the couple was of what they projected to the public and how they filmed what they did, but any analysis is largely overtaken by the spirit of adventure that drove the couple, working on adrenaline in the same way you’d think that standing in front of a volcano erases anything in the mind but instinct. (Frequently, the unfussy shot of a seismograph going wild gets the pulse racing when it portends the Kraffts going into the breach.)
“Fire of Love” doesn’t hide the fact that the Kraffts ultimately perished as a result of following their passion, somberly noted by narrator Miranda July mere minutes into the film. But it is a testament to Dosa and crew that one never thinks about the end but rather the moment at hand as the two pursue more and more dangerous research to gather as much as much information as they could, letting their curiosity lead them to pull off such unbelievable feats as crossing a lake filled with sulfuric acid in Indonesia in a rubber inflatable boat or dragging their Jeep through arctic tundra to get to the best view of a volcano. As Maurice says at one point, “I prefer an intense, short life to a long, monotonous one,” and like its subjects, “Fire of Love” doesn’t waste a second, perhaps showing how elusive matters of the heart are to articulate but recognizing the best way to explain is for the film to simply find its way into yours.