Filmmakers often exploit a certain language to express the romance between characters. Furtive glances, soft kisses on a softer jazz, confessional dialogue.
Telling one of the most dynamic love stories of the late 20th century – shared by French scientists Katia and Maurice Krafft – Sara Dosa had hundreds of hours of footage, but few of those moments.
Dealing with the couple’s curious flame, Dosa embraced the flamboyant images they produced, giving them the on-screen romance they deserved — and would recognize.
“It’s all about how they shot volcanoes. Volcanoes are their love language,” she said.
Dosa’s “Fire of Love,” playing at this week’s True/False Film Fest, is a tale of all-consuming passions and the mysteries that keep love alive, set against a lava-red glow. The festival opens Thursday, with “Fire of Love” making its True/False debut Friday night.
Continued: What to know before attending the True/False Film Fest 2022
Getting to know Katia and Maurice Krafft
Dosa’s growing body of work matches the subjects step by step as they navigate their relationship to nature. His previous films include “The Last Season,” a portrayal of former soldiers turned mushroom hunters in the Oregon wilderness; and “The Seer and the Unseen”, about an Icelandic woman whom the film casts as “a real ‘Lorax’.”
These projects feed Dosa’s wild curiosity and accept a certain political significance because they “showcase the sensitivity and vitality of the Earth when there are so many narratives that make the Earth a resource or dead or a band of real estate to capitalize on,” said the filmmaker.
Few people have found the Earth more alive than Katia and Maurice Krafft. The couple, who married in 1970, have spent much of their life together basking in powerful beauty. It was not an adversarial relationship – man against volcano – but an open heart relationship; falling in love with volcanoes only deepened the Kraffts’ affection for each other.
Volcanoes almost functioned as the third side of a love triangle, Dosa said, and “Fire of Love” captures that natural romance.
“Without delving into the matter, the filmmaker seems to suggest that these self-proclaimed ‘nuts’ were luckier than most, able to find in each other a kindred spirit with whom they could share a lifelong quest,” wrote veteran critic Tim Grierson for Screen International.
The Kraffts’ love story is perhaps the ultimate embodiment of a Peter Gabriel lyric: “In your eyes / The light, the heat / I’m complete.”
The couple died in 1991, among 43 people who lost their lives when Mount Unzen erupted in Japan. Dosa therefore met the Kraffts through their vast archive, containing numerous video sequences, thousands of still images, twenty books and more.
The couple left “a fantastic library of their personalities, their perspectives, their way of thinking, their way of writing,” she said.
Dosa was fascinated by the images of the Kraffts. The filmmaker was impressed not only by his dangerous closeness, but also by his precision and the affectionate gaze of the camera. The couple transferred their enchantment to him.
“You really feel the camera linger until the absolute last second. There’s something just being understood and felt – you can tell by looking at their footage,” Dosa said.
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The Kraffts have left many clues about life together – and just as many questions, acknowledges the director. Going through their archives, she found impressive images broken by visual non-sequences: scenes of a feasting Komodo dragon or a reclining Katia Krafft.
Scientists often wrote in the first person, but their records can’t tell us everything. Dosa wonders, for example, if the Kraffts have ever known regret.
“They both lived, apparently, with no regrets,” she said.
Dosa also questions the suggestions of melancholy, hushed reactions the couple have held in their hearts as they stare at what they might call the fires and the face of God.
The director conveys this feeling throughout “Fire of Love”; the film pays homage to the couple by playing the guide and offering “greater commentary” on what is unknown, Dosa said. And carefully crafted storytelling, voiced by actress and performance artist Miranda July, moves away from sentimentality to give their romance a thoughtful timbre.
The Kraffts were, in many ways, the ultimate lovers. Embracing both lived scientific observation and mystery, they gave themselves to people and phenomena they could never fully understand. “Fire of Love” invites us to follow in their footsteps, trying out this kind of love, for 93 minutes.
“The Ultimate Love Story” on True/False
Without photos of the Kraffts holding hands or professing their devotion, Dosa relied on images of what they loved. Keeping the volcanoes in front of their eyes draws viewers to their light and warmth in a way other, perhaps more obvious images never could.
“Sometimes nothing is as rewarding to watch as a movie about the obsession that makes you share the obsession,” wrote Owen Gleiberman in a Variety review.
We fill our fables and tales with active-voiced virtues: chasing adventure, pursuing ultimate meaning. The Kraffts lived the contours of such stories, expending their love for the unknowable.
“Going to this love, going to this unknown, gave them a better understanding of themselves, of the world, and gave enormous meaning to their lives,” Dosa said. “So in some ways it’s the ultimate love story.”
This sense of meaning translates into the lives of viewers who will never stand at the foot of a volcano, its warmth kissing their skin. Dosa feels that their story is changing her.
“I’m not going to chase volcanoes,” she laughed. “But I want to get to know them through their work and through these images – I feel like it helped me get in touch with what feels most meaningful to me.”
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Dosa’s own story is about pursuing what she loves – storytelling – in the company of collaborators she loves. Standing by the fire of the Kraffts only sharpens this pursuit.
“Fire of Love” plays three times at this year’s True/False: 7 p.m. Friday and 10 p.m. Saturday at the Missouri Theater, and 9:30 a.m. Sunday at the Blue Note. Find the complete program of the festival on https://truefalse.org/.
Aarik Danielsen is the Features and Culture Editor for Tribune. Contact him at [email protected] or by calling 573-815-1731.