Fire of Love movie review – the volcano love story is one of the best of the year

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The unpredictable lies at the molten heart of fire of love, an incredibly captivating movie-slideshow about volcanoes, marriage and more. Sometimes it can be the same way of writing about movies – like when what might have seemed just a run-of-the-mill nature documentary instead turns out to be one of the most electric pictures of the year.

The volcano, it is said, is like a bomb with a fuse of unknown length. Fittingly, director Sara Dosa surprises throughout her portrayal of French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft, with deadpan narration from filmmaker Miranda July and pop-up retro-futurism from Wes Anderson. If these touchstones put you off, don’t let them. Dosa has a safer sense than either of how much fantasy is enough.

The period is 1966-91. That the Kraffts die too soon is established from the start. But sadness is the very last flavor of the film; instead, a smile flashes across the screen from the moment the young couple from Strasbourg embark on their first research trips to Iceland and Zaire. The thrill of novelty is dizzying. Far above us, Sputniks and Apollos had helped mankind learn about space. But our understanding of volcanoes was primitive by comparison, slipped into the fault line between geology and chemistry. At the Kraffts, we had both, in the form of two magnetic personalities: Maurice the geologist, bullish and funny; Katia is a dynamic and curious chemist-physicist. They were an oddly perfect fit. And their work, carried out close without fear, was revolutionary.

Katia Krafft wears a metal helmet on Etna, 1972 © Image’Est

The main one of their tools was the cameras. The high definition digital era has made us jaded by grandiose natural panoramas. But the Kraffts’ 16mm films still look wonderfully eerie and addictive: skies of liquid fireworks and epic belches of lava, bubbling red beneath a blackened planet. The movie may look like an elementary cooking show – magma-blown! – or like watching the end of the world. (Or the start of one.)

As spectacular as it is, fire of love is also a captivating film about cinema: a tribute to the power of the Krafft’s clever and witty images. They knew what would survive of their labor was this. And performance too. To better sell their passion, Katia and Maurice put themselves in their movies like sci-fi cartoon characters with matching red beanies and comical foil heat suits. Their personalities were transformed into characters, like pop stars. TV producers loved them. “They got good at playing themselves,” notes July.

This is why the shape of fire of love Matches the content so smartly. Rather than haphazardly imposing a high-end style on a pair of backstage boffins, Dosa identifies the Kraffts as media pioneers: experts in the familiar brand of cinema that the likes of July and Anderson would embody years later.

The director herself is clearly in love with the couple, and not just because their incredibly vivid films are so central to hers. Still, if there’s a weak point, it’s that their relationship often plays out as one between these TV characters, rather than real people. (Asked on-screen about the union of two volcanologists, their response was: “It’s volcanic!”)

But Dosa doesn’t miss the crucial fact that marriage was, by definition, a triangle, volcanoes of both shared obsession and eternal other part. And she does not hide the cold truth of any love of nature – that she will meet with indifference. In this case, destructive rage too. Later, the Kraffts are moved to ask, what if the thing you worship is also a killer? Without diluting the previous glee, the question deepens this thin, striking novella of a film – which explodes into a fantasy of color and sound, then falls into a bittersweet silence.

★★★★☆

In UK cinemas from July 29 and in US cinemas now

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