A 90-minute documentary about lava? What is this, geology class? Not even close… Fire of Love is nothing like what you might be expecting. Yes, it’s a meditation on lava and its many forms, but as directed by Sara Sosa, it’s a cool, sensual and visceral experience that thrusts you into an inferno of romance. This fiery love story never feels like homework, which might be why NEON acquired it out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
As befits something distributed by NEON, Fire of Love is a film that goes its own way. In fact, Sosa’s style of direction veers closer to the French New Wave than it does David Attenborough–the voice-over is pure Godard–and there’s plenty of Europop music to keep you entertained. While most docs about nature are a total bore, Sosa adds a number of artistic flourishes to go along with the information, as well as a handful of jokes to elevate the characters from dweebs to adorably quirky documentarians.
The documentary tells the story of Katia and Maurice Krafft, married volcanologists who bonded over their love of rocks, spent their lives chasing volcanoes and, yes, had a sense of humor about their profession. Early in their career they realized that the best way to support their work was publicity, so they set out to document all of their travels in a way people could enjoy. They made comedies. They made dramas. They made TV appearances. As a result, the couple left behind hundreds of hours of archival footage and still photography, which Sosa uses as a backdrop for her study into their marriage and their need to push each other to the brink.
In the span of their 30-year run, they recorded more types of lava than anyone. They recorded lava that oozes like puss, flows like water, boasts like fire, sulks like smoke, stretches like putty and splatters like paint on a Jackson Pollock canvas. It never stops coming, and neither do the videos of Katia and Maurice standing next to these volcanoes, one of which ended their lives in June, 1991. It’s an event we are asked to cherish, though, since the entire runtime is a joyous celebration of the two guides who went out of their way to make a difference and find hope in the rubble.
The aesthetic approach is warm and absorbing. Katia and Maurice compose gorgeous static shots, each image as dense as a pool of lava, layers of shadows colliding with rays of color and light. Within these frames, love and discovery blossom. One shot sees the two scientists dancing against a wall of fire, lost in a haze of orange fog and vermilion mist. The only time the film diverges from these exquisite compositions is to give the audience a run-down on their mission, with a number of interviews devoted to their craft.
The result is a film that lies at the intersection of history, documentary and French New Wave, a wholly singular concoction ingeniously tied to the movie’s subject. “Volcanologists aren’t all that different from artists,” says Maurice. Fire of Love makes this idea abundantly clear with an eruption of creativity.