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film review

Maurice and Katia Krafft gaze upon a volcano in the distance as smoke, steam and ash swirl behind them.Courtesy of Image'Est / Mongrel Media

Fire of Love

Directed by Sara Dosa

Written by Sara Dosa, Shane Boris, Erin Casper and Jocelyne Chaput

Featuring Katia Krafft, Maurice Krafft and Miranda July

Classification PG; 93 minutes

Opens in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal July 22

The Kraffts’ story is thoroughly compelling.Courtesy of Image'Est / Mongrel Media

What does it take to stand out in today’s ultra-crowded documentary market? So much so that your little indie passion project sparks a seven-figure bidding war between studio giants? Turns out that you need volcanoes, destruction, death and a love story as hot as lava.

Such is the case with Fire of Love, director Sara Dosa’s doc about the extraordinary careers and marriage of Katia and Maurice Krafft, two French volcanologists who recorded an astounding amount of expedition footage during their decades in the field.

But while the Kraffts’ story is thoroughly compelling – the two were as obsessed with magma as they were with each other, leading each other down a fateful path of no return – Dosa’s film is fascinating in ways completely unrelated to her unconventional subjects. Adopting an aesthetic that I can only approximate as Wes Anderson lite, the filmmaker isn’t so much interested in telling us about the Kraffts or even about the little-understood science of volcanology (you might walk out of here knowing less about volcanoes than you did walking in), but in creating a low-key twee mood that edges past cute straight into grating.

Maurice and Katia during an interview in their home in Alsace, France.Courtesy of INA / Mongrel Media

Admittedly, the Kraffts themselves gave Dosa a lot of rope to whimsically hang herself – the pair wore matching blue parkas and red toques as they captured whimsical low-fi 16mm footage of volcanic eruptions across the world. As they pushed their expeditionary limits further and further – danger seemed to be more a concern for Katia than her husband, who was fond of telling television interviewers that “the unknown is not something to be feared, but something to go toward” – the pair projected a casually enchanting sense of deadpan obsession that seems pulled directly out of Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. (The connection is so strong that you begin to wonder how much Anderson himself was aware of the Kraffts before writing his 2004 film.)

But while Dosa has a talent, and perhaps a fascination equalling her subjects, for illustrating the hidden beauty of the natural world, she ultimately crafts a film that is too neatly packaged.

Take Love of Fire’s narration, provided by artist and Anderson contemporary Miranda July (Kajillionaire, The Future) with such a deliberately parched dryness that you’re tempted to reach into the screen and hand her a glass of water. July’s dialogue – credited to Dosa, producer Shane Boris and editors Erin Casper and Jocelyne Chaput – doesn’t help matters, often straining to add poetic profundity where none is needed.

“Understanding is another form of love,” July flatly whispers at one point. No doubt. I’m only unsure that Dosa understands the Kraffts as much as she does her own vision, which is about as fresh and hot as Kilimanjaro.

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