Released: 11th November 2022
Seen: 5th February 2023
Katia and Maurice Krafft loved two things in life, each other and volcanos. For years the two of them would travel around the world and visit various volcanos, capturing some of the most visually stunning footage of these natural phenomena possible. They were two of the leading volcanologists on the planet until June 3rd, 1991 when they were caught in a pyroclastic flow on Mount Unzen. For years their footage of lava flows has been used to explain the dangers of volcanos and even appeared in documentaries made by other people but now the very footage that these two volcanologists captured will be used to tell their adorable and strange life story in Fire of Love.
Fire of Love is made entirely out of Katia and Maurice Krafft’s footage and the occasional interview, accompanied by narration by Miranda July, and it slowly tracks their lives from their first date to getting married and a large number of their assorted climbs up active volcanos where they caught some of the most intense footage known to man. Occasionally portions of their personal diaries are used to give some insight into their thought process but for the majority of the film the actual substance comes from the footage that the Krafft’s shot of lava formations and assorted volcanic gasses.
Fire of Love tries to use the love story between Katia and Maurice as a narrative device to string everything together, except there isn’t that much footage to support that story (indeed, Fire of Love bluntly says they can’t even confirm how the two even met) but in a way that’s probably because Katia and Maurice’s love language appeared to just be spending time together around active volcanos, the fact that they worked together so often and shot so much footage of these explosive lava cannons is proof enough of how intense their love story could be… but the problem is that a National Geographic documentary isn’t exactly going to be the best way to tell a human story.
Where Fire of Love shines is when we just get to see the footage that the Kraffts shot together and see the beauty that they fell in love with, the glorious shots of the lava flow of the explosive reds that’re so big they fill the frame. These shots would be almost impossible to get now with digital footage and a full crew but these two got it with cameras from the 70s and a tiny crew that might include a friend who they dragged along and it’s stunning. It’s all presented in the original aspect ratio, nothing’s been updated for widescreen so this is just the pure footage that the Kraffts captured and it’s stunning to behold.
The more time that the audience spends looking at the volcano footage, the more Fire of Love ends up working because it does what one expects from a National Geographic documentary… the problem comes in when the narrator pops up and tries to pull us into this romance story that’s honestly just not that interesting. It’s certainly sweet that these two people found each other and shared this strange hobby but other than inferring things there’s nothing actually interesting here. They love each other and went looking at volcanos, that’s the entirety of the love story that Fire of Love hangs its hat on and it’s just not compelling.
Once you get past the gorgeous visuals (again, huge thanks to the Kraffts for capturing all this gorgeous footage at great personal risk), there’s really not much here. The story of the documentary isn’t exactly groundbreaking and at most, you will learn the names Katia and Maurice Krafft but that’s about it really. It’s trying to attach an emotional throughline on a bunch of lava footage that just never fully works, at least not as well as they clearly want it to.
Fire of Love is not a bad documentary, indeed it’s rather fascinating if you want to see a lot of footage of volcanos but it just kind of baffles me that this is one of the Oscar nominees this year when there have been so many more fascinating and powerful documentaries out in the last year (Pez Outlaw, Our Father, Diamond Hands) that could’ve had this spot. It’s certainly got something to it, a visual style that’s going to delight a fair few people but it just never really rises much above “Quite nice”.