Japan: it’s the home of countless natural wonders and a burgeoning Mecca of cultural exports. It is also home to some of the most notable volcanoes on Earth. One of it’s most famous volcanoes, Mount Mihara, an active volcano off the coast of Honshu Japan, might be best known for a string of death by volcano suicide attempts in the 1920s and 30s, and later on as the prison cell for silver screen monster legend, Godzilla. About 1,000km to the west of Mount Mihara lies another volcano of note. It is known as Mt. Unzen, a towering stratovolcano whose violent eruption in the year of 1991 took the lives of Katia and Maurice Kraftt, vulcanology’s rock star power-couple and subjects of this documentary, Fire of Love.
When watching Fire of Love, it is hard not to be lulled into an awe-induced coma by the powerfully stark images that bombard the viewer from start to finish. At times, the film’s slow-moving wide-angle lens helicopter shots of lava flows are so poetic and visually stunning, that one has to remind themselves that what they are watching is not some long lost Stanley Kubrick classic from the early ’70s. At other times, shots of Maurice and Katia dawning their Forbidden Planet-like metal suits contrasted against long sheets of hot spewing lava are so b-movie fantastic, that it’s almost hard to believe that anything like that could exist in nature. However this is no lost Kubrick film, it is not footage from the set of an old Ray Harryhausen film, it is nature, in all of her beautiful and terrifying glory. The Krafts weren’t just ardent fanatics of volcanology, they were artistic virtuosos, with keen eyes and a sense of visual acuity that would put many modern cinematic legends to shame. They may pretend that their footage was just a means to an end, a way to collect money for more expeditions, but in their heart, they were true auteurs.
Most documentaries of this kind tend to try and bash its audiences over the head with a heavy-handed message of one sort of another. Fire of Love makes no such attempt. Sure, the story of a couple whose love for each other is rivaled only by the love of the thing which will cause their demise is about as Shakespearean as it comes, but that’s not really the point of this film. Nor is it necessarily a biographical portrait of its two human subjects, as riveting as that might be. In fact, all human elements of this story seem to take a back seat to the true star of this film—nature herself. The footage shot by the Krafft couple and meticulously arranged by Director Sara Dosa attempts to let viewers fall in love with nature’s bubbling cauldrons of fire, much in the same way that Maurice and Katia did. We have all had are moments of fandom at one time or another, and while this film may not make you want to drop everything and start an expedition to your closest neighboring volcano, it might at least give you some insight into why this couple risked life and limb just to catches glimpses of the Earth’s fiery abyss.
Any child that grew up in the early ’90s can remember the impact that the original Jurassic Park had on them. For a brief moment in time, every child around the world wanted to become a paleontologist. For some children who grew up in that era, this dream became a reality, and many scientists such as Dr. Dean Lomax or Professor Ben Garrod would tell you that the Steven Spielberg classic was single-handedly responsible for the sudden boom of interest and exploration in that field. Films like Film of Fire mean so much to this world because they can be the source of similar inspiration to scientists of tomorrow. It is a film that sparks the flame of curiosity in its viewers and perhaps may one day be the reason some young burgeoning mind decides to pursue a life in the sciences. Had Maurice and Katia spent their life making music instead of shooting film, they would have made one hell of a rock duo. If you see any documentary this year, make sure it’s this one. Films like this should be celebrated and revered, so go out and see it, in fact, see it twice. And if you find your own curiosity in volcanology piqued by this film, go and check out Fire & Ice: The Volcanoes of the Solar System by Natalie Starkey and Super Volcanoes by Robin George Andrews. Volcanoes both here on Earth and out in the solar system are just waiting to be explored, and the person to do it might just be you.