Wednesday, April 27, 2022

ND/NF ’22: Fire of Love

Katia and Maurice Krafft were sort of like the Jacques Cousteaus of volcanism. For decades, they were beloved, especially throughout Europe, for their books and television documentaries on volcanoes. They even had their own red stocking caps. As a couple, they kept their privates lives private, but their passion for volcanoes was very public. It also led to their demise. The Kraffts’ lives and careers are documented in Sara Dosa’s Fire of Love, which screens as part of the 2022 New Directors/New Films.

The Kraffts talked a lot about volcanoes, but not so much about themselves. Dosa had extensive access to the Kraffts’ archives, which was a blessing, but a number of their personal details remain blank. Maybe that is okay, because everyone is coming for the volcanoes anyway, but Dosa too often tries to speculate (and then ruminate) anyway.

Maurice was always the adventurer who wanted to get closer, regardless of risks. Katia was the more analytical and conservative one, who was reluctant to raft across acid lakes. At first, they investigated both of their two loose classifications for volcanoes. “Red” volcanoes have the classic slow glowing lavas flows, but you really must be negligent to let one kill you. “White” or “grey” volcanoes are the really dangerous ones that suddenly just explode, like Mount St. Helens. It was that danger to human life that led the Kraffts to eventually specialize in the latter.

It is not much of a spoiler to reveal the Kraffts were killed by a white volcano, because Dosa starts with the reality of their deaths, rewinding in search of “Rosebud” moments. Much of the archival film she assembled is quite amazing. However, Miranda July’s narration is grossly over-written, dubiously offering loaded pop psychology and forced symbolism. This is a case where less would have been much more.

Frankly, it is a mistake to oversell the drama of their lives, but the circumstances surrounding their deaths is arrestingly tragic. Yet, it is almost sadly fitting that they should go in such a manner.

Arguably, the Kraffts are ripe for wider popularity in America, given the extent of the film archive they left behind and the up-close volcano footage they daringly captured.
Fire of Love is bound to create a larger market for their films in the U.S. The question will be how much so. Recommended for the visuals (not the audio), Fire of Love screens tonight (4/27) at MoMA and tomorrow night (4/28) at the Walter Reade, as part of ND/NF ’22.