A Kamikaze Existence: Fire of Love (2022) - Reviewed


All photos courtesy of Neon

Passion is a dual-sided emotion--it can inspire love and curiosity, but also obsession and foolhardiness. Volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft embraced all of these traits with both their love for each other and their love for their life's work, which was documenting and observing live volcanos. Their countless hours of footage and findings not only gave us new information about the natural world, it also helped to uncover warning signs for when a volcano was about to erupt and helped countries design evacuation plans to save lives. To no one's surprise the Kraffts met their end in 1991 during an eruption of Mount Unzen in Japan. They died how they lived, in the fire-tinged heat of passion.

Sara Dosa's documentary about the couple is an intimate affair, despite the epic backdrop of nature's fury. The Kraffts weren't cocky or ostentatious, just inquisitive and adventurous, traipsing all over the globe to explore eruption sites. Their escapades were filled with humor, Maurice was fond of frying eggs over cooled magma, and the gang of volcanologists would hang out in speedos and swimsuits near the hot craters. In a way, the Kraffts were fighting against the scientific status quo, risking their lives to get up and close to dispel myths.

Fire of Love is presented in such a way that it feels like an homage to French New Wave films both in its looser structure and in its editing choices. Filmmaker Miranda July provides a whispery solemn narration that travels over the footage like the thick billowy smoke from an eruption, both soothing and mesmerizing. 

The footage is incredible, beautifully restored with deep saturated reds searing the eye interspersed with quaint animations to illustrate the scientific facts, like moving textbook diagrams. Some of the sequences look like they could have been ripped from retro sci-fi films, especially when the Kraffts wear their silver fire protection suits. There is judicious use of split screen and other visual tricks to break up the scenes and the soundtrack is understated, with a whiff of electronic instruments to make it more modern.

As a love story, Fire of Love feels lighter and airy, as it was quite obvious that the Kraffts were madly in love with each other. Perhaps it could even been interpreted as a love triangle with the volcanos as both of their paramour, a third party that eventually cut their relationship short. Katia was the more careful of the two, preferring to engage in a little more risk mitigation, and Maurice was more prone to dive right into the heat, but they both flirted heavily with the limits of human interaction with Mother Nature, eventually standing in her face together as it consumed them both.

--Michelle Kisner