Bizarre love triangle

    NATURE / The extraordinary love story of volcanologist couple Katia and Maurice Krafft, who died as explosively as they lived.
    Director: Sara Dosa
    Country: USA, Canada

    Sara Dosa has a knack for capturing the interplay between humankind and the natural world, distilling it to its inseparable essence. Her 2014 feature debut, The Last Season, trailed two mushroom-hunting war vets deep into the Oregon woods; while 2019’s The Seer and the Unseen followed an Icelandic «seer» who acts as a liaison between the country’s elves, trolls and «hidden people» and us mere mortals, And now with this year’s exquisitely-crafted, Sundance-winning Fire of Love, the Indie Spirit Award-nominated director (and Peabody award-winning producer) allows us to get even more up close and personal: to witness members of our species literally – and willingly and beautifully – embrace consummation by force majeure.

    Fire of Love Sara Dosa
    Fire of Love, a film by Sara Dosa

    An epic romance

    For this thoroughly Herzogian – and sure to be Academy Award-nominated – latest documents one heck of a bizarre love triangle. Its three protagonists – two with a passion for one another, and also for a dangerously indifferent third – are the Alsatian French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft, who are in a menage with their eternal quarry: gorgeous, red hot lava-spewing volcanoes. In fact, the story of the Kraffts – which the director stumbled upon while searching for volcanic imagery to open The Seer and the Unseen – is such an epic romance it’s a wonder James Cameron never came calling. (Though, of course, Herzog did, featuring the couple in 2016’s Into the Inferno.)

    Sara Dosa has a knack for capturing the interplay between humankind and the natural world, distilling it to its inseparable essence.

    The histoire d’amour fortuitously began half a century ago when, much like Jacques Cousteau, the couple discovered that they could cash in on their joint passion with a camera – filming volcano eruptions around the world. (And eventually winning an Emmy for Mountains of Fire, which they shot for National Geographic – which also, naturally, signed on to Fire of Love.) And even more like the shark researchers and underwater filmmaking pioneers Valerie and Ron Taylor (who actually got the Spielberg call, having created the work that inspired the book and subsequent blockbuster Jaws), they’re onetime celebrities who’ve been inexplicably and shamefully forgotten. This despite possessing charmingly infectious, media-ready personas (on full display in numerous mischievous television interviews).

    Fire of Love Sara Dosa
    Fire of Love, a film by Sara Dosa


    Over the course of two whole decades, the Kraffts built up a treasure trove of mind-blowing material; both their #16mm footage (180 hours of which was culled for Fire of Love) and Katia’s diary entries (vividly resurrected via a memorable voiceover from Miranda July#) make up the bulk of Dosa’s doc. And also indispensable knowledge. (The Maurice and Katia Krafft Memorial Fund at the University of Hawaii is dedicated to educating people in high volcanic-risk countries on how to live with the hazards.) Yet Fire of Love, with a soundtrack that spans Ennio Morricone to Brian Eno to Air, is far from any sort of nature doc. Indeed, between its utterly entrancing split screens and zooms and that Truffaut-inspired narration by July, what Dosa’s actually conjured up is something downright magical – a homage both to unsung adventurers and to the French New Wave at large.

    (Un)fortunately, this heart-soaring tale came to a close on June 3, 1991, on Mount Unzen in Japan. That fateful day, along with 41 other people – including the American volcanologist Harry Glicken – the Kraffts were swept away in a pyroclastic flow. For a magnetic duo that lived each moment by the «rhythms of the earth», it was an ending no Hollywood hack could hope to top.

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    Lauren Wissot
    Lauren Wissot
    A US-based film critic and journalist, filmmaker and programmer.

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