Fire of Love: Hot Springs Eternal, by David Bax
This might sound mean but that’s the opposite of how I intend it: In the most basic, traditional sense of the word, Miranda July is not “good” at voiceover narration. All I mean to say here is that she doesn’t sound like a professional. But when judged according to the rubric of whether or not her reading of the narration is interesting and compelling, she’s actually a fantastic choice. I don’t know why more directors haven’t hired her to do this. Maybe, after seeing Sara Dosa‘s captivating Fire of Love, they will.
Dosa’s documentary is about Katia and Maurice Krafft, pioneering volcanologists who dedicated themselves fervently to filming and photographing volcanoes so as to help the world better understand and prepare for them. They were also married to one another. They were also killed by a Japanese volcano’s lava flow in 1991. You might be familiar with these broad strokes of the couple’s shared biography if you saw Werner Herzog‘s 2016 documentary Into the Inferno, which covered the Kraffts somewhat briefly in its overview of volcanoes and the people who are fascinated by them. As seen through Herzog’s trademark man-versus-nature lens, the Kraffts were foolhardy and died as a result of their own hubris. Dosa takes a more forgiving approach.
In addition to the footage the Kraffts shot of volcanoes–which we’ll get to later–Dosa also includes a lot of footage they shot of themselves. This helps us get to know them as a loving couple of oddballs; a scene in which they test out their clunky flame retardant metal suits and helmets by having Maurice lob a rock at Katia’s head is hilariously cute. It also helps us get to know them as filmmakers in their own right.
Dosa seems to be commenting on the fact that she’s making a movie about people who made movies with her choice of music. She repeatedly employs recognizable bits of score from other films. A sequence of the Kraffts setting up shots is set to “The Ecstasy of Gold” and a section in which the difference between “red” volcanoes and “gray” volcanoes is discussed is soundtracked by Air’s “Clouds Up,” which you may not know by name but which anyone who’s seen The Virgin Suicides is familiar with.
As evidenced by Dosa and Herzog’s differing takes on the subjects, there are various ways in which to interpret the story of Katia and Maurice Krafft. Similarly, there is more than one way to watch Fire of Love. On the one hand, it’s a biographical documentary that tells a compelling human interest story. On the other hand, with its endlessly entrancing footage of magma exploding and flowing against the shifting background of a wall of smoke, it’s a documentary about how the recorded image is so powerful, some have even died for it.