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Fire of Love

National Geographic documentary tracks the love affair between Katia and Maurice Krafft and a whole slew of erupting volcanoes - from the Sarajevo Film Festival


I have always loved volcanos. Ever since I was a child visiting the Natural History Museum in Edinburgh on a school trip and I bought a book about them. Who wouldn’t? The moment all that is solid flows like water, heat of the surfaces matches the core of the earth and explosions many multiples of nuclear bombs destroy entire mountains. Did you know Mount Etna grows by a metre every year? The non-volcanic Mount Everest manages a measly three centimetres. Then again the whole of Etna could be slung into the air at any moment and the cartographers would have to revise the altitude radically down. Rutger Hauer voice: That’s what it is to be a volcano.

So I fully understand Katia and Maurice Krafft’s obsessional devotion to these temperamental mountains. The pair group up not too far from each other in the Alsace region of France where they independently became fascinated in vulcanology. Having met, they started organising trips to eruptions and documenting their own adventures with films that became popular spectacles but also scientifically important in the understanding of the underlying geological – geothermal activity. Their work also had a more consequential impact in informing at risk communities of the need to evacuate: something which tragically did not happen when Nevado del Ruiz erupted in Columbia and thousands died in the ensuing mudslides.

Sara Dosa’s documentary lovingly delvers into the cinematic heroes who shot incredible amounts of footage at great personal risk – sometimes foolhardy in their adventurousness. Indeed, with their matching red bobble hats and perverse sense of adventure, the couple appear to have escaped a Wes Anderson movie. There are differences of approach. Maurice wants to canoe down a lava river to the sea in Hawaii and Katia thinks he’s an idiot.

The film benefits enormously from the knowing eccentricities of the couple – Maurice in particular is a polished media savvy presence, even as he pretends to a no-nonsense workman like persona – as well as the spectacular footage which is the film’s core appeal. It’s less successful in its narration which Miranda July provides with a sort of sleepy wistfulness. It grasps for a Werner Herzog-kind of poetry, but suffers by not being Werner Herzog.

There is a contemporary resonance in the tale of scientists struggling to avert disasters in the face of unknowing populations and obstinate and reluctant governments. Ultimately, though the film is about the fascination of lava flung into the air, clouds of billowing dust that reaches miles into the atmosphere and the mythically huge drama of the Earth living. The puny humans in the foreground are at once dwarfed by the immense drama unfolding and elevated by their own obsessed love.

Fire of Love premiered at the 28th Sarajevo Film Festival runs from August 12th to the 19th.

By John Bleasdale - 15-08-2022

John Bleasdale is a film critic and writer based in Italy. He has published a novel entitled Blood is on the Grass and a book of short stories as well as a number of articles and features. His work ha...

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