Two volcanologists in love on their way to their doom

The shot looks like something out of a science fiction movie: two figures in silver, heat-resistant suits with weird helmets on their heads walk through a blackened, apocalyptic landscape. Burning fire in the background.

It is a beautiful image that serves as a poster of the compelling documentary for a reason Fire of Love† The eye-catching suits belong to Katia and Maurice Krafft, two volcanologists from Alsace. The two met at the University of Strasbourg, discovered their mutual passion for volcanoes and married in 1970. Since then, they have been inseparable, taking numerous trips to see and investigate active volcanoes up close. They have a fixed division of roles: he is a geologist, she is a geochemist. The job is observation. The urge: closer and closer. The more you see. When does the moth get too close to the flame?

Fire of Love makes no bones about the fact that things end badly for the sympathetic duo: their death in 1991 is announced in the first five minutes. It gives the film something morbid, something of a sensational ‘snuff movie’: almost eagerly waiting for death to come inexorably. As an interlude, filmmaker Sara Dosa sprinkles philosophical asides through her beautiful film: about mortality, the deadly danger of their profession. Where and how the couple dies, it only becomes clear at the end.

Like their French colleague, oceanologist Jacques Cousteau, the Kraffts funded their expeditions with spectacular films, with Maurice wielding the camera and Katia taking pictures of all kinds of striking detail. Dosa eagerly uses their impressive image archive of dozens of films and hundreds of thousands of photos, as well as talk show fragments of the mediagenic couple, who wittily play enlarged versions of themselves. The documentary is nicely edited and has a – sometimes somewhat pompous – voice-over by director Miranda July. The moody score by Nicolas Godin, of the French band Air, alternately reinforces the danger and the mystery of volcanoes.

Like the title Fire of Love indicates, the film is not only about the passion for fire-breathing volcanoes, but also about the relationship between Maurice and Katia, with metaphors of fiery love and burning passion up for grabs. In the first half of their pioneer life, they mainly investigate red volcanoes: the photogenic type that spews lava flows during an eruption. These eruptions produce spectacular images of a rare poetic power. Natural violence at its best, but at times also bordering on abstract cinema.

Also read about the films Werner Herzog made with and about the Kraffts: A requiem for the Krafft couple

But red volcanoes are predictable and relatively harmless compared to the gray volcanoes targeted by the Kraffts in the 1980s. These are unpredictable volcanoes that discharge in huge explosions, white-hot pyroclastic flows and dark ash clouds. They are less impressive from a purely cinematic point of view, but this type of volcano guarantees a blood-curdling aftermath – see the eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz in Colombia, which killed more than 20,000 in 1985. Because Maurice Krafft’s films were shot on 16mm film, the image size of Fire of Love 4:3, the almost square, old-fashioned television format. It is recommended to see the film on the big screen. Then you will understand better why the couple places so much emphasis on the insignificance of man in the face of ancient, mythical volcanoes.